Monday, September 24, 2012

Kousa Dogwood, another urban wonder

Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

Himalayan Dogwood (Cornus capitata)
The fun thing about urban foraging is that you have a chance to find plants from all over the world. Recently when I was walking through my neighborhood I spotted a dogwood with huge bright red fruit that reminded me of a tree that I saw 9 years ago in the Himalayan foothills of Central Nepal.  I was just starting a year of ethnobotanical work with Langtang National Park and went for a hike on a trail that led out of the village and up into the mountains. I came across two 10th grade boys walking down the trail carrying sacks of wheat. We got to chatting and I followed them to the water powered stone mill and watched them as they ground their wheat into flour. Afterwards we started talking about plants—at least as much as my rudimentary understanding of Nepali would allow—and I asked them about the large fruits that were scattered along the trail. They said they were called gulna (Cornus capitata) and that they could be eaten fresh, but I shouldn’t eat the ones that had fallen on the ground, which was too bad because there weren’t any left on the tree.

Heavy fruit production on this Kousa Dogwood
Ever since then I have always wondered what those Himalayan Dogwood fruits taste like. The fruits before me looked virtually identical, but after some botanical sleuthing, I determined that they were Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), which are deciduous whereas those on Himalayan Dogwood are evergreen. Kousa Dogwood is native to China, Korea, and Japan. The fruit looks something like a strawberry, a pink soccer ball on a stick, or a sea urchin skeleton. Kousa Dogwood fruit is made up of 20-40 pinkish-orangish red fleshy carpels that are all fused together in a spherical arrangement atop a 3-4 inch long stem.

Nice ripe Kousa Dogwood fruit
Throughout their native range, Kousa Dogwood fruit are eaten fresh or fermented to make wine. The landowner allowed me to sample a few and I found that they have a soft creamy texture and sweet flavor similar to papaya. However, the skins are slightly coarse and mildly bitter, so I have learned to break them open and suck out the pulp.

A few minutes picking
Yesterday, Katrina and I picked a couple quarts of Kousa Dogwood to experiment more with and I learned that unripe fruit tend to have more orange colored skin, have pulp that is white and firm instead of orange and soft, and most notably, lack the sweet flavor of ripe fruit. A few fruits had hard seeds that are about the size of a Chokecherry pit, but contrary to my reading about this fruit, we did not find them to be particularly seedy, having found only 3 seeds in the 2 quarts that we collected.

Fruit mill making nice Kousa pulp
Spoon method
We started processing our Kousa Dogwood fruit by breaking them in half and scooping the sweet flesh out with a spoon, but soon tired of this and turned to my Squeezo fruit mill for assistance. The raw fruit went through the mill easily, but the few seeds that we came across were too large to fit through the auger and required several hard cranks to break them up and force them through.

The ground was covered with fruit
Our Kousa Dogwood pulp is juicy and sweet and a welcomed addition to the daily smoothie. Next time we pick Kousa Dogwood we will lay a tarp under the tree and shake it so that we only collect ripe fruit that are ready to fall off.

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  1. Wow! Beautiful fruit. I have so much fun learning about unusual edibles in the landscaped gardens. Would the smaller fruits of other dogwood varieties be edible too? I know of a pink flowering dogwood that produces some small fruit

  2. These look delicious! I'm very happy to have found your page.
    So much to be learned!

  3. I think other dogwood fruit are worth cautious tastes. Our native Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) has similar composite fruit but I can find no ethnobotanical literature on their use as a food by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, Bunch-berry (Cornus canadensis) is edible and has nice flavor (but seedy). Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) berries are dried and eaten by the Thompson and Nitinaht in British Columbia. I haven't tried them dried yet, but fresh I find them to be very bitter.

  4. Amazing Abe!! What color is the flower of the Kousa Dogwood? The fruit looks huge... The picture of the Himalayan Dogwood looks similar to the Pacific Dogwood don't you think? I can't wait for our Christmas get together, Henry looks to have the making of a little botanist! He can identify the Douglas Fir and on a good day also the Live Oak, Madrone and California Bay tree. He knows Rosemary, Lavender, boxwood and much more!

    See you soon,

    Love, Rachel

  5. Thank you for this great info--I have one of these in the backyard of the house I just bought in Maine and had no clue what it was. Now I can't wait to play!

  6. Very interesting. So the gist of it is you took ripe fruit, processed them through a pulp-extractor, then added the pulp to a smoothie?

    I've been thinking about how to best use these fruit, and now I know much more about how to do it. I wonder why foraging books don't focus more on these abundant fruit.

    Sam Schaperow
    P.S. Check out PlantForagers (

  7. Has anyone made a jelly out of the fruit?

    1. I picked a bunch today and plan on making jelly tomorrow.

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  10. I love your blog! I've seen this tree around restaurants before, I had heard that they were 'non-edible' so I never tried them. I've seen these advertised as 'strawberry bushes', but the catalogs never mention that you can eat them. Thank you so much for the awesome and unusual food sources! Too bad Euell Gibbons didn't include these as a possible food source.

  11. I have a white flowering dogwood with berries (like the Kousa Dogwood) dropping all over my patio. I live in Oregon and didn't know these were edible!!! I'm embarassed to say that I've been throwing these berries into the yard debris container for years, yikes. I'd like to know 'for sure' these are indeed edible, may need to consult a local nursery. Thank you for your blog, most interesting and informative, ha!

    1. If the berries look like the image of a Kousa Dogwood berry - - then they are probably Kousa berries and they are delicious! To tell for sure, pick a red, squish berry and open the skin. If the inside is a light orange, slimy pulp and has a sweet, tropical taste then it is a Kousa. The berries have lots of small, woody seeds which you can spit out or strain the pulp through your teeth. There are recipes online to make jelly - probably the best use of the fruit.

  12. will the fruit ripen after picking.