Ethnobotanic: Native Americans smoke the inner bark of redosier dogwood in tobacco mixtures used in the sacred pipe ceremony. Dreamcatchers, originating with the Potawotami, are made with the stems of the sacred redosier dogwood. Some tribes ate the white, sour berries, while others used the branches for arrow-making, stakes, or other tools. In California, peeled twigs were used as toothbrushes for their whitening effect on teeth (Strike 1994). Bows and arrows were made from Cornus shoots. The inner bark is used for tanning or drying animal hides.
The Apache, Cheyenne, Dakota, Montana Indians, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Omaha, Ponca, and Thompson Indians all use the inner bark in a tobacco mixture for smoking the sacred pipe (Moerman 1986). The leaves and/or inner bark of redosier dogwood are also used as a smoking mixture by the Okanagan-Colville,
the Flathead, the Kootenay, and the Blackfeet peoples in the western United States and Canada (Hellson 1974, Hart 1976, Turner 1978, Turner et al. 1980, Johnston 1987). The Navaho-Kayentaf and Navaho-Ramah used the plant ceremonially as a Mountain-top-way emetic (Moerman 1986). An infusion of redosier dogwood bark was used as an anti-diarrheal by the Chippewa and the Potawatomi, an antidote for weak kidneys by the Shuswap, and a pediatric aid for children who wet the bed by the Shuswap. The Chippewa used an infusion of the bark for eruptions caused by poison ivy. The Chippewa and the Micmac used a decoction of redosier dogwood root for sore eyes and catarrh. The Okanagan and the Thompson Indians took a decoction of the leaves. Other remedies treated by redosier dogwood included headaches, sore throats, a wash for ulcers, a substitute for “larb”, and a decoction of bark was taken as an antidote for weakness.
The Maidu of Northern California used redosier dogwood as a tonic, a laxative, emetic, and cathartic (Strike 1994). Maidu women took a dogwood decoction after childbirth.
The Indians of the Missouri region (Densmore 1974) ate the fruits. The berries are known to be tart and bitter, but were nonetheless eaten by all of the southern Interior peoples of British Columbia, including the Nlaka’pamux, Lillooet, Okanagan-Colville, Shuswap, Kootenay, Blackfeet, and the Flathead of Alberta and Montana (Kuhnlein and Turner 1991). The fruits were gathered from August to October and eaten fresh, a few at a time, or, more commonly, were pounded and mixed with other fruits, such as chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) or Saskatoons (Amelanchier almifolia). Some people mashed the berries and dried them in cakes; others dried and stored them. Eating a few raw fruits was considered to be a good tonic among the Nlaka’pamux and the Okanagan-Colville, who ate them raw as a kind of “relish” (Turner 1978; Turner et al. 1990).
Redosier dogwood is used for basketweaving. Sometimes called red willow, both Salix species and Cornus sericea are used interchangeably. Differences in stem color create a multi-hued design element. Indian people from the mid-Columbia River used redosier dogwood to make “ribbons” for basket decorations (Schlick 1994). If gathered in the early spring, the bark will retain its deep red color when dried and could be mistaken for cherry. The Hidatsa, Arikara, and Mandan made twill plaited burden baskets with two-toned dark and light designs; these baskets were made of willow (Salix nigra), redosier dogwood, and boxelder (Acer negundo) splints (Turnbaugh et al. 1986, Hart 1976). Willow and redosier dogwood were used by the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Pawnee, and Teton Sioux to make a coarsely coiled gambling basket for dice.
The Ojibwa and the Chippewa used redosier dogwood bark as a dye. The inner bark was mixed with other plants or minerals and used to make a red dye, a light red dye, a black dye, and an ecru or “khaki” colored dye (Densmore 1974).
Wildlife: The fleshy fruits of dogwoods are very valuable to wildlife, particularly in the Northeast (Martin et al. 1951). The fruit ripens in late summer, and besides being available through the fall, some of the berries may persist on the plants into the winter months. Wildlife browse the twigs, foliage, and fruits. Birds known to eat the fruit include: wood ducks, eastern bluebirds, cardinals, catbirds, long-tailed chats, crows, purple finches, yellow-shafted flickers, crested flycatchers, grosbeaks, kingbirds, American magpies, mockingbirds, crested mynah birds, orioles, robins, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, European starlings, tree swallows, scarlet tanagers, brown thrashers, thrushes, vireos, pine warblers, cedar waxwings, and woodpeckers. Game birds who eat both the fruits and buds include grouse, ring-necked pheasants, band-tailed pigeons, greater prairie chickens, bobwhite quail, and wild turkeys. The shrubs provide excellent nesting habitat for songbirds. Mammals that eat the fruit and foliage include black bear, beaver, mountain beaver, cottontail rabbits, raccoons, eastern skunks, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and rats. Deer, elk, Mountain goat, and moose browse the twigs and foliage.
Landscaping & ornamental: Redosier dogwood is often planted as an ornamental, both to beautify the landscape and to attract birds. Dogwood is often used for landscaping and as a secondary plant in windbreaks.
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