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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2013. Updated April 2022.
Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) is a small tree or shrub native to Asia that is now a widely popular landscape plant in the US. And it’s easy to understand why… In Spring it will display a mass of delicate star-shaped flowers. And by summer you’ll have an abundance of peculiarly shaped but sweet tasting fruits. Kousa dogwood fruits are a brilliant edible that can be foraged from naturalized plants.
You may also know it by the names: Japanese Dogwood, Korean Dogwood, Chinese Dogwood, and possibly Szechuan strawberry. It’s one of three common dogwood trees that you’re likely to find in the US. Currently, it has only been naturalized in New York state, but it can be found further afield in various gardens and parks.
Kousa dogwood fruit and leaves: edibility and culinary use
The primary edible part of the Kousa Dogwood are the rosy red berries, which ripen in small clusters in late summer. The young leaves are also edible when cooked, but personally I have yet to try them. Kousa dogwood fruits have a very unique flavor for a temperate climate fruit. I often liken it to a cross between a mango and pumpkin, tropical, but with an earthy sweetness. The fruits are about the size of a strawberry but round (hence the common name Szechuan strawberry).
One issue is that there are usually a lot of seeds inside, so there isn’t always much of the fruit flesh to enjoy. Luckily, the trees produce lots of fruits, so it’s a case of selecting the biggest and ripest fruits to maximize the taste and texture.
The fruit should be bright red and slightly squishy or soft to the touch. If it is hard then it’s filled with more starch than sugar and doesn’t taste nearly as good. The best way that I have found to eat Kousa dogwood fruit is to pull off the stem and suck the pulp right out, then spit out the seeds. It’s a great shot of flavor. The skin is edible but rough and grainy, so it’s usually best to avoid eating that part. As far as recipes go, you can use the fruit to create jams, jelly, and also desserts like pies and cheesecakes. Just take care to remove the seeds.
Kousa dogwood cultivation
If you don’t have any local trees, you can find Kousa dogwood saplings online if you are interested in growing your own. It currently has no major disease or insect problems in the US and is hardy down to USDA Zone 5. There is a fungal disease known as Cornus anthracnose which affects North American dogwoods. However, its effects on Kousa dogwoods are not well documented.
As a small tree/shrub, it’s a perfect choice for small gardens. Place it in full sun or partial shade, and dig in plenty of rich, moist soil and compost in the planting position. Kousa dogwood doesn’t tolerate dry spells very well. So, as the tree is maturing, mulch the base with additional topsoil or bark to keep moisture in. Because of its value as a garden ornamental, there are many cultivated varieties in existence for you to choose from.
Health benefits of Kousa dogwood fruit
Kousa Dogwood fruits contain calcium and plenty of antioxidants. They also contain anthocyanins which are water-soluble compounds that act like antioxidants. Because of these anthocyanins and antioxidants, Kousa dogwood fruits could help to reduce inflammation in the digestive tract and also benefit cardiovascular health. Studies are still being conducted on the benefits of Kousa fruit, and anthocyanins in particular, but anthocyanins are often present in many ‘super foods’.
Kousa dogwood can provide beauty and value throughout throughout the year. In summer it gives us northerners a taste of tropical flavors not usually found in cooler climates. Not to mention the plant is primarily grown for its ornamental flowers which cover the tree in a beautiful display of white blooms in spring. For backyard foragers, find a local Kousa dogwood and keep an eye on it in late summer. It will soon be a favorite spot for a late summer snack.
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