Boxwood, American

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Boxwood, American

Botanical Name: Cornus florida (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Cornaceae

Synonyms: Bitter Redberry. Cornel. New England Boxwood. Dog-Tree. Flowering Dogwood. American Dogwood. Benthamidia florida. Box Tree. Virginian Dogwood. Cornouiller à grandes fleurs. Mon-ha-can-ni-min-schi. Hat-ta-wa-no-minschi.
Part Used: The dried bark of the root.
Habitat: The United States, from Massachusetts to Florida.

Description: An ornamental little tree introduced into English cultivation about 1740, but still uncommon. It grows from 10 to 30 feet in height, with oval, opposite leaves, dark, clear green above and lighter below. The flowers occur in a small bunch surrounded by four large, white, involucral bracts that give the tree the appearance of bearing large white flowers. The name 'Florida' alludes to this effect, and the name 'Cornus,' from cornu, 'a horn,' refers to the density of the wood. It flowers so punctually in the third week in May that it sets the time for the Indians' corn-planting. The oval berries are a brilliant red. The bark is blackish, and cut into almost square sections. The inner bark can be utilized to make black ink, half an ounce of bark being mixed with two scruples of sulphate of iron and two scruples of gum-arabic dissolved in sixteen ounces of rainwater. A scarlet pigment can be obtained from the root bark. The wood is heavy and fine-grained, valuable for small articles because it takes an excellent polish. It is cut in autumn and dried before using. The twigs, stripped of their bark, whiten the teeth, and are used as a dentifrice by the Creoles who inhabit Virginia. The juice of the twigs preserves and hardens the gums. A bitter but agreeable drink can be prepared from the fruits infused in eau-de-vie.

In commerce the bark is usually in quilled pieces several inches long and from 1/2 to 2 inches broad, which may be covered with the greyish-red outer bark or may be deprived of it. They are brittle, and the short fracture shows a mottled red and white colour. There is a slight odour, and the taste is bitter and a little aromatic; when fresh, almost acrid. The powder is a reddish-grey colour.

Constituents: The bark has been found to contain tannic and gallic acids, resin, gum, extractive, oil, wax, red colouring matter, lignin, potassa, lime, magnesia, iron, and a neutral, crystalline glucoside called Cornin. Either water or alcohol extracts the virtues of the bark. The flowers are said to have similar properties, and to be sometimes used as a substitute. It is said that the berries, boiled and pressed, yield a limpid oil.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Before Europeans discovered America, the Red Indianswere using the bark in the same way as Peruvian bark. It is valuable in intermittent fevers, as a weak tonic for the stomach, and antiperiodic, as a stimulant and astringent. As a poultice in anthrax, indolent ulcers, and inflamed erysipelas, it is tonic, stimulant and antiseptic. In the recent state it should be avoided, as it disagrees with stomach and bowels. Cinchona bark or sulphate of quinea often replace it officially. 35 grains of Cornus bark are equal to 30 grains of cinchona bark.

The leaves make good fodder for cattle, and in Italy the oil is used in soups.

The ripe fruit, infused in brandy, is used as a stomachic in domestic practice, and a tincture of the berries restores tone to the stomach in alcoholism. Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Pliny recommend them in diarrhoea.

Dosage: Formerly, 1 to 2 oz. of the powder between paroxysms of intermittent fever.

Of fluid extract, 30 minims as a tonic.

Of cornin, 2 grains.

Other Species: C. circinata, or Round leaved Dogwood, and C. Amomum or C.Sericea (Silky Cornel or Swamp Dogwood), have similar properties and are sometimes used as substitutes.

C. sanguinea or C. stolonifera, a European species, is stated to have cured hydrophobia. A decoction was formerly used for washing mangy dogs, hence its name of Dogberry or Hound's Tree. It also yields an oil that is both edible and good for burning.

A Chilian species has edible berries, with which a drink called Theca is prepared. The juice of the leaves, or Maqui, is administered in angina.

C. caerulea has an astringent bark.

C. mascula, called in Greece akenia, and in Turkey kizziljiek, or redwood, yields the red dye used for the fez, and the astringent fruit is good in bowel complaints, and is used in cholera and for flavouring sherbet. The flowers are used in diarrhoea, and the berries were formerly made into tarts called rob de cornis.

The dwarf C. suecica has small red berries which form part of the Esquimaux' winter food-store. In Scotland they have such a reputation as a tonic for the appetite that the tree is called lus-a-chraois, or Plant of Gluttony.

Dogwood is also a popular name of Pisicia Erythrina, which yields a powerful soporific used for toothache. Its chief use is for poisoning birds, fish, or animals, which may be eaten afterwards without ill effect. Fish after eating it may be caught in the hand, stupefied.