Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Dogwood Tree

Step outside and you will see Spring is well on it's way with the Dogwoods blooming. My grandmother, who is a great fisherman, says when you see the Dogwood blooming the fish are biting. Living down here in the south you see all the wisteria bloom, hanging everywhere. The dandelions and buttercups are covering the fields and yards. You see among the deep and green woods that the dogwood tree are taking the stage. So I thought I would look up and see how other cultures saw the dogwood tree.
     The name dogwood is thought to come from two different ideas. One is because a wash was thought to be made from the dogwood bark for dogs to cure them of the mange. An European cultivator boiled the bark and found it effect against the mange.
     Another idea is that the tree was once called dagwood from the Celtic word dag or dagga. The Celts would use the hard wood to make daggers thus how the tree got it's name.Through time the word changed to dogwood.
     As I was doing my research I found tons of websites and articles referring to the Legend of the Dogwood Tree and it's association with the cross that the Jesus was nailed on. I must say here that the dogwood grew in North America, Europe and eastern Asia only; not Jerusalem, not Bethlehem and not Israel . Enough said on that.
     I found much information on how the Native Americans respected and used the Dogwood Tree but not much of the European countries. The Gypsies did use it for basket weaving. They would take the twigs and burned them and then the ash was boiled into a thick mixture which is mixed with the Gypsy's blood.  Then the mixture would be smeared onto 'promise paper', which was made from birch bark. On the 'promise paper' a wish was written and surely the wish would come true.
     The Native Americans had deep respect and many legends about the dogwood tree esp. the Cherokees. They believed that a tiny race of people lived in the forest and watched over them. They were known as the Dogwood People. They taught the Native Americans how to live in harmony with the land and watch over the elderly and the infants. The Dogwood People believed in treating people with respect and to do good deeds for others just for kindness and not personal gain.
     Another legend tells of a Cherokee princess. Now I must stop here and explain something that I learned while I was walking the Red Road. There is NO SUCH THING AS A CHEROKEE PRINCESS and never was. Princess is a white man's word and way of thinking. Usually when you hear of a Cherokee princess it mostly means a daughter of a chief. Now back to the story. There was a jealous warrior who ended the life of the Cherokee maiden because she refused him as a suitor. As she laid dying the maiden used a dogwood blossom in attempting to stop the bleeding. Today the Cherokee believes the white flowering dogwood species known as the Cherokee Princess produces red petal tips in honor of the slain beautiful Cherokee maiden.
     A third Cherokee legend tells of a powerful chief who demanded ' rich ' gifts from suitors for his four daughters. The gods / spirits were angry at how selfish and greedy the chief was so they turned him into a small tree with low branches and promised that he would never grow tall. His four daughters are still with him in the four petals of the flower.
     The Native Americans used the bark to treat malaria because of alkaloid which is a nitrogen compound found in the bark. They also developed a scarlet dye from the bark which was used to color eagle feathers and porcupine quills. Just as the Celts used the wood to make their daggers, the Native Americans used it for their arrow shafts and daggers. When the dogwood tree started blooming it was a sign to start planting their corn.
     The Arikaras, a Native American tribe would mix bear berry with the dry inner bark of the red dogwood to make a sacred tobacco which they would smoke. More on the Arikaras tribe
     The pioneers used dogwood bark steeped in whiskey to help treat the 'the shakes'. You can use the twigs as a tooth brush. Native Americans and slaves would take the twigs of a dogwood tree and chew on them until the ends would turn into a 'brush'. There is one precaution though, using the 'brush' too much causes a receding gum line.
     Early settlers and pioneers found the wood useful as well for any type of handles especially for outside tools. Early makers of watches and clocks loved using 'toothpicks' made out of the dogwood tree. They were perfect for cleaning and repairing watches and clocks for they' wouldn't splint. 
     Some of our founding fathers fell in love with the Dogwood Tree. George Washington planted the dogwood at his hone in Mt. Vernon as well as Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. The white dogwood tree is a native tree here in North America and it was cultivated in 1731.
     I tried to find any magical usage for the dogwood tree. The only thing that I found was that the tree represents charm and finesse. If you want to enhance you social abilities and increase you personality then used the dogwood tree. I didn't find how but I would think of making incense out of the bark. Maybe make some dogwood water or oil.
     I must say I learned a lot. Went on a boat ride today and saw all the dogwood trees blooming along the shore, up through the forest and up the mountains. I saw more than just a tree.


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