Kousa Dogwood Fruit, Tropical Flavor in Temperate Climates

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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.

Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Flowers and Leaves
Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Flowers and Leaves (Photo By: Valerie75 / Wikimedia Commons)

 

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.

4 bright pink/red Kousa Dogwood Fruits
Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Fruit

 

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 cut in half showing yellow flesh.
The inside of a Kousa dogwood fruit | Photo by Gadgaholic on Wikimedia Commons

 

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.

 

Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Flowering
Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Flowering (Photo by: Frank Vincentz / Wikimedia Commons)

 

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’.

 

A green, solid fruit next to a bright red, swollen ripened fruit.
An unripe and ripe Kousa dogwood fruit | Photo by Wzwz on Wikimedia Commons

 

Conclusion

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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12 Responses

  1. Found several of these Kousa Dogwoods while on the edge of the Connecticut River in Springfield MA – at Riverfront Park. This has been a city park in Springfield for the 31 years that I have lived here. The kousa dogwoods that I saw look like shrubs about 3 ft high with lots of fruit. Maybe they were planted there by the city at some point or maybe they are here as wild plants.

    1. I actually live in southern CT, so i\I’m pretty close. I have not seen any kousa dogwoods that I suspected were growing naturally in the wild. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I just haven’t seen any. I would bet someone planted those at some point. Like you said, probably someone associated with the city.

  2. I work in Princeton, NJ, and the office park where my office is located has at least five kousa dogwood trees, which are dense with fruit at this time of year (mid-September). I find the taste somewhat close to guava, which I grew up eating, in Central America. Some of my workmates have become fans of the fruit too, even if at first they weren’t sure they wanted to risk their lives eating a fruit that didn’t come out of a bag.
    One question, any ideas about the vitamin content of the fruit?

  3. There are a couple large Kousa Dogwood trees in Silverdale Washington state, in front of the Kitsap Humane Society. Loaded with fruit, and looking very old and healthy.

  4. Sharon from Houston Tx near Cypress/Tomball. Was in Wheeling W Va. 9-11-20, visiting my grandson who just enrolled on a football scholarship. You think that’s a far drive..his roommate is from Nigeria!! On my first morning walk from the hotel I followed a sign to see some historical homes. Lining the sidewalk was a number of Kousa Dogwood trees, all loaded with ripened fruit. I’d never seen such a bumpy berry looking thing but I googled it right away. Because I used to make jelly I wouldn’t use the outer tart skin. To remove seeds I’d rub them around a metal strainer to remove much of the thick fruit. Add sugar, apricot or pear nectar vs water, simmer for jam

  5. Is the Kousa the same as the Chinese Empress dogwood? I’ve planted a Chinese Empress two years ago which is healthy but no fruit has developed. Does it take time to fruit or should I have gotten a Kousa?

    1. Are you getting flowers? I’m not familiar with that variety and weather what they need to flower and fruit. You’ll benefit from another nearby dogwood to pollinate though if you are getting flowers.

  6. It looks like kousa is a very similar species to ‘ empress of china’ dogwood. ’empress of china’ is cornus capitata subsp. angustata ‘Elsbry’. they likely have similar edibility, although I read that empress of china is sometimes bitter.

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