Name: Black Dogwood (Rhamnus frangula)
Otherwise known as: Frangula Bark, Alder Buckthorn
Habitat: A deciduous shrub or small tree of the Rhamnaceae family, growing to about 3m in moist soils along riverbanks in Europe and North America. It has shiny green, oval to obovate leaves with deep veins and displays green/white flowers that produce drupes of violet berries on ripening. It has a dark grey bark which carries a series of white dots known as lenticels. The fruit and bark are poisonous.
What does it do: The plant featured in Druidic ceremonies as a pacifier to calm feelings of hostility and hopelessness, and is still an object of veneration in some pagan societies. The reason may stem from the brilliant crimson under-bark which is thought to represent human blood.
Black Dogwood became prominent in the middle-ages when it was discovered to be a reliable source of charcoal and employed in the manufacture of gun-powder and cartridges and continued to be used for this purpose until the middle of the 20th century. Thousands of acres were grown to fuel the demand for ammunition, and the nature of the coppicing process provided the most delicate stems which could also be used as fuses for primitive bombs. In addition these processed stems were the main source of artist’s charcoal and are still in demand today.
The tree contains anthraquinones. It is a powerful purgative, a cholagogue (increases bile secretions), a digestive stimulant, a liver tonic and a parasiticide, both internally and externally.
One of the main uses of Dogwood charcoal is as a treatment for poisoning by Aspirin, Paracetamol, Morphine and Barbiturates; it is also used as a filter for treating poisoning by mushrooms such as the Amanitas (Death-cap et al).
Herbalists have used extracts from the bark for centuries to treat severe cases of constipation where milder purgatives have failed. Infusions from the leaves are used to treat gingivitis and sore throats. A very common use of the bark was to make a strong wash to kill body lice: this was a popular treatment among infested soldiers during both World Wars. Poultices were applied to infected wounds and the charcoal would be added to overcome any noxious smell.
The tree produces a yellow and black dye, while the immature berries yield a bright green dye that was employed in the calico trade.