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Cherokee Herbal Moment - ᎧᎾᏏᏔ Dogwood Tree

Updated: Apr 12

The Cherokee have passed down the knowledge of plant medicines throughout their generations. This knowledge encompasses the belief that the Creator, Unethlvnvhi (Maker of All Things), made plants with properties that can help restore health in a person's body, mind, and spirit. It is taught that The Creator made every plant with a purpose and ability to heal humans from diseases. Tsila, or "Healer" was known as the medicine person or what would be called today a botanist, herbalist, or naturopath. They were able to diagnose sickness and then make the appropriate poultice, tea, or salve to restore a person to wholeness. This blog will examine the Cherokee knowledge and medicine extracted from the Dogwood Tree. It is a small tree that blooms earlier than other flowers in the spring.

Cherokee Herbal Medicine - Dr. Laralyn RiverWind

Cherokee Name:

ᎧᎾᏏᏔ Ka-nv-si-ta

ᎦᎾᏏᏔ Ga-na-si-ta

English: Dogwood

Latin: Cornus florida

Taste: bitter

Parts Used: bark, flower, berries

Natural Usage: Anodyne, anti-periodic, antispasmodic, astringent, bitter-tonic. The dogwood tree is deciduous to the East Coast and has been used for its medicinal properties by many tribes for a variety of ailments.


There are a dozen species of dogwood. Some are very toxic, even to the touch. Some dogwood bark and leaves are known to induce skin rashes. Ensure you do not harvest from a plant you have not identified positively. Limit initial contact with a plant that is new to you; do not let your first exposure to a plant be a considerable one. Approach a plant with respect.

The entire tree can provide a variety of uses:

The blooming white flowers can be made into a tea and used in the same manner as Chamomile leaves for alleviating the symptoms of the flu or a cold.

The dried root bark is useful in treating malaria and chronic fevers, including Dengue fever. It can also remedy severe diarrhea.

The bark has also been used as a poultice on external ulcers, wounds, etc. The glycoside "cornin" found in the bark has astringent properties. Astringent herbs draw together or constrict body tissues, effectively stopping the flow of blood or other secretions.

Scraped Inner Bark

The inner bark was boiled into tea and used to reduce fevers and other maladies associated with the throat. A compound infusion of the bark and the root is historically reported to treat measles, bedsores, and worms in children when added to a bath.

The fruits are considered by many to be mildly toxic. They can induce vomiting. But the Cherokee used them as a bitter digestive tonic. A tincture of them has been used to restore tone to the stomach in cases of alcoholism. Bitters can also be great for the liver and gallbladder. But a word of caution: Caution should be used if the gallbladder is inflamed with stones. Bitters cause an increase in bile production - which is typically good - unless there is obstruction of a duct. Stones can get lodged in the liver or in the hepatic and biliary ducts leading to and from the gallbladder. This is both painful and dangerous and can lead to a trip to the emergency room... at which point they will want to send you to the surgical suite and relieve you of your offending gallbladder.

Dogwood Root

The root is very fibrous and was used as a paintbrush after chewing the end. A red dye can also be extracted from the root by crushing it into a pulp and extracting the liquid. The root was also used as a natural toothbrush and naturally occurring properties in the root can whiten teeth.

Bark Tea Dosage: Ingredients: 1/2 tsp. dried bark per 8 oz. of water.

Instructions: Decoct (boil) 15 minutes, steep 1/2 hour.

Drink: 4 oz.

Frequency: 3 - 4 times per day.


Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany Timber Press. Oregon.1998 ISBN 0-88192-453-9

Grieve. A Modern Herbal. Penguin. 1984 ISBN 0-14-046-440-9

Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man. Constable 1974 ISBN 0094579202

Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1990 ISBN 0395467225

Brito-Arias, Marco (2007). Synthesis and Characterization of Glycosides. Springer. ISBN 9780387262512

Mooney, James (1890) Cherokee Theory and Practice of Medicine. The Journal of American Folklore 3(8):44-50

Dr. Laralyn RiverWind is a Naturopath, Master Herbalist, Biologist, and Ambassador of the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee (a State Recognized Tribe). Her doctorate in Naturopathy and Master Herbalist degrees are from Trinity School of Natural Health. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Valdosta State University with a B.S. in Biology. She also has considerable experience in the allopathic health industry, in emergency patient care in a level-one trauma center, and extensive studies in Microbiology, Epidemiology, and Infectious Diseases.


FDA disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Herbal remedies are no substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are serious about good health, you'll want to combine diet, exercise, herbs, a good relationship with your doctor, and a generally healthy lifestyle. No one of these will do it alone.

This website and the information contained therein is designed to provide users with both modern and historical herbal information and make no express or implied warranties or representations with regard to the accuracy, reliability, or standard of herbal information provided within, including but not limited to, the generality of the aforegoing, and implied warranties of fitness for any particular purpose or non-infringement. Your use of this website and any information contained herewith is entirely at your own risk.


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My aunt had three of these trees in her yard and used every part of the tree. WOW!

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I remember my great grandmother talking about the importance of Dogwood and it symbolizes a new growth season, when I was 3..I remember going on the nature hike with naturalist in public school..I was the only one able to identity the name of the tree..I felt so proud.. Never rememberered that it had any medicinal properties..So cool! Thanks!

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Dogwood is also good for letting us know when the crappie are biting. My grandma used to say; The dogwood is blooming. Time to go fishing! Gee I miss her!

Good info! Thank you!

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