Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thanks to Dogwood

Dogwood in bloom is easy to recognize--you know, it's the tree with those creamy white/greenish/pink petals (which are really modified leaves--the real flowers are the tiny green ones clustered in the center).

 When I see Pacific dogwood, here's the story I like to remember: In May 1836, Dr. John Townsend was asked to treat two Cowlitz Indian children who were sick with fever. Unfortunately, he was out of quinine. He described in his journal, later published as Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River, how he substituted the bark of Pacific dogwood for the drug.

"Taking one of the parents in the wood with his blanket, I soon chipped off a plentiful supply, boiled it in his own kettle, and completed the preparations in his lodge, with most of the Indians standing by and staring at me to comprehend the process. This was exactly what I wished, and as I proceeded, I took some pains to explain the whole matter to them in order that they might at a future time be enabled to make use of a really valuable medicine which grows abundantly every where throughout the country. I have often thought it strange that the sagacity of the Indians should not long ago have made them acquainted with this remedy. And I believe, if they had used it, they would not have had to mourn the loss of hundreds or even thousands of their people who have been swept away by the demon of ague and fever."

The two children responded to Dr. Townsend's treatments and survived.

In light of the sad history between the native populations and the Europeans who were soon to overrun them, I like to remember that Pacific dogwood trees stand as an example of decency and kindness.

12 comments:

  1. From Beth
    Nice post.
    I remember the lovely, HUGE dogwood tree that grew on Harrison hill in Milwaukie, when I was a kid. Even after the October 12 storm half of it was still there, and I think it was still one of the biggest in state/world? It finally went of old age. I had no idea they were medicinal. Beth

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  2. And what I remember of dogwoods is the neighbor girl telling me that Christ was killed on a dogwood cross and the flowers bear his stigmata--see the blood from the nails? see the crown of thorns?--and the Lord made dogwoods weak ever after so, I don't know, if you wanted to kill the Messiah you'd have to use oak or some other hardwood. Lord love a duck.

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  3. Beautiful post and another sad reminder of that shameful piece of our history. Are the "flowering dogwoods" that grow in the southeast medicinal too?

    I have often said the lacy dogwoods filter out life's sorrows in the early spring---didn't know they actually cured disease. How interesting!

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  4. How DOES one prepare dogwood bark as a febrifuge?

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  5. Roxie, nice use of the word febrifuge! I know that the local tribes used boiled bark as a tonic. Here's some info from herbs2000.com, which helps answer your question and dkm's: The Indians "simmered the bark in water and used the extract to relieve sore and aching muscles. They also made a tea of the bark to promote sweating and hence break a fever - a remedy that physicians and herbalists later adopted. During the blockade of southern ports in the Civil War, when cinchona bark, the source of quinine, was not obtainable for treating malaria, dogwood bark tea became a substitute."

    And Murr, there's some info at that site for you too: "Dogwood is also known for its extremely hard wood, which has been used for all kinds of objects, from shuttles for weaving to golf club heads." So much for the source reliability of that little neighbor girl...

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  6. That is a great story! Thanks!

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  7. What a lovely post, Pat. I used to do a lot of hiking and the sight of a Pacific dogwood amid the evergreens seemed a reminder of the beauty so generously bestowed by the Creator. It makes glad the heart and cures many ailments as well. Thank you. Alice Lynn

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  8. Thanks for sharing this information, Pat. It gives me one more reason for celebrating this tree.

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  9. You know, the little neighbor girl was notoriously unreliable on many points. Although she did get the part about how babies were made right, not that I bought it at the time.

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  10. Dogwoods in all their forms (more cultivated and natives) are such a nice reminder of spring. I'm not sure what the history is, but we have an image of a dogwood on the city seal here in Milwaukie.

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  11. Thanks for sharing this information, Pat. It gives me one more reason for celebrating this tree.

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  12. And what I remember of dogwoods is the neighbor girl telling me that Christ was killed on a dogwood cross and the flowers bear his stigmata--see the blood from the nails? see the crown of thorns?--and the Lord made dogwoods weak ever after so, I don't know, if you wanted to kill the Messiah you'd have to use oak or some other hardwood. Lord love a duck.

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