Cornus canadensis – Bunchberry

BunchberryCornus canadensis

Cornus = kor-nus, from the Latin name for the carnelian cherry;

canadensis = kan-a-den-sis, “of Canada”;

Identification: Bunchberry is a low, erect perennial herb standing 5 – 20 cm high. The flower cluster is made up of small greenish flowers subtended by four white or cream coloured, petal-like bracts. The lower leaves are opposite whereas the upper leaves are in a whorl. The fruit is bright red, forming in a bunch.

Distribution & Habitat: Bunchberry is common in open and closed woodlands.

Preparation & Uses: Bunchberries are edible raw or cooked and are very good in puddings, although they are a little bland. Unripened berries can cause stomachaches. They are called Musko mina by the Crees, and Metotsipis by the Blackfoot. Taken internally or applied as a poultice, bunchberry reputedly can reduce the potency of poisons. I have had occasion to use this plant after becoming very sick from eating a incorrectly identified mushroom. I recovered soon after eating the bunchberries.

The infused berries were used by the Montagnais to treat paralysis, while the maritime Malecite Indians used the whole plant to treat fits. A root tea was used for infant colic. It is presently being examined for possible anti-cancer properties.

Externally, the chewed bunchberries have been used as a poultice to treat local burns. Combining and boiling the berries with high tannin containing plants (such as common tea or bearberry) creates a wash suitable for itching skin caused by poison ivy or bee stings.