Cornelian cherry trees (scientific name Cornus mas) are a flowering plant species belonging to the dogwood family - Cornaceae. This species has its origin in the south western regions of Asia and southern Europe. In Asia, it is found growing in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, Israel, Georgia, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.
This species is basically a small tree or outsized deciduous shrub growing up a height of anything between 5 meters and 12 meters. It bears deep brown branches, while the twigs are greenish. The leaves are arranged opposite to one another and measure about 4 cm to 10 cm in length and 2 cm to 4 cm in width. The shape of the leaves vary from ovate to oblong and have a margin all along. Cornelian cherry trees bear small yellow flowers measuring about 5 mm to 10 mm. Each flower has four small yellow petals. These flowers appear in clusters of 10 to 25 flowers towards the end of winter sometime between February and March, much before the leaves of the new growth season appear. The fruit is a reddish oblong drupe measuring about 2 cm in length and 1.5 cm across. Each berry-like fruit of this plant encloses a solitary seed.
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Cornelian cherry has a potent astringent action and, hence, it has traditionally been employed for curing diarrhea and dysentery. The astringent action of this berry is attributed to the presence of elevated levels of tannin in this fruit. In fact, one has a dry sensation in his/ her mouth after consuming cornelian cherry berries, persimmon, sapodilla or quinces and this is due to the astringent tannins present in these fruits, which is responsible for the contracting or shrinking of the tissues in our mouth. This action of the tannins constricts the release of bodily fluids, which is the initial step towards revitalization after suffering from dysentery or diarrhea.
Cornelian cherry also possesses potent tonic properties. The berries of this plant also possess excellent restorative properties, which is attributed to their elevated mineral content. These berries are rich in copper, calcium, manganese, potassium and zinc content. Besides these essential minerals, cornelian cherry is also a wonderful resource of sodium. Consumption of these berries and therapeutic formulations made from them helps speedy recovery from various ailments and restore to normal health after the illnesses. For instance, drinking the juice extracted from cornelian cherry berry can also promote recovery after a bout of severe diarrhea.
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Several scientific studies have been undertaken to find the properties as well as the health benefits of consuming cornelian cherry. Findings of these studies show that consuming these berries on a regular basis helps to boost the functioning of liver by exercising a potent hepatoprotective action.
Eating cornelian cherry also promotes the functioning of the kidneys. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is believed that cornelian cherry possesses effective diuretic properties. In other words, consumption of this fruit helps to promote urine production, thereby supporting the normal functioning of the kidneys. At the same time, cornelian cherry also aids in lowering high blood pressure and is beneficial for people suffering from hypertension. Moreover, this berry-like fruit also encourages detoxification of the entire body.
Cornelian cherry also possesses potent antiviral and antibacterial properties. It is believed that this berry-like fruit is a perfect for preventing common cold and flu, as it contains elevated levels of vitamin C, which is a very powerful natural antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. If you wish to enjoy all these benefits of cornelian cherry, you need to consume it raw. Cooking these berries robs them of their vitamin C content.
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The fruits of cornelian cherry trees are employed for treating a variety of health conditions, including fever and various complaints related to the bowel. These fruits possess astringent properties, making them very effective in treating cardiovascular ailments. Aside from these, these fruits are also employed for treating cholera.
Even the flowers of cornelian cherry trees (C. mas) possess therapeutic properties and are employed for treating diarrhea. The fruits as well as the bark of this tree possess febrifuge and astringent properties. At the same time, they also contain elevated amounts of vitamin C, which is excellent in combating common colds and flu.
In general, adding cornelian cherries to our diet makes it a very healthy practice, mainly because they contain reasonable amounts of various vitamins and minerals. Aside from supporting the optimal functioning of the liver and kidneys, consumption of these cherries also helps to relieve the mucous membranes in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, clear the body of infections and also reinstate our health. On the other hand, consuming the raw cornelian berries enhances our intake of antioxidants and, in this way they protect us from the damages caused by free radicals. They also help to protect us from the various ailments and health problems that are attributed to the detrimental free radicals. In fact, traditional medical practitioners often recommend consumption of these cherries on a regular basis, because they are also considered to be antihistamine and anti-diabetic agent.
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Unlike the wood of nearly all other woody plant species, the wood of cornelian cherry trees (Corns mas) is very dense and they do not sink in water. The density of the wood of these trees makes them valuable for making machine parts, crafting tool handles and used for many similar purposes. People have been using the wood of cornelian cherry trees since the seventh century BC, especially by the ancient Greek craftsmen, who used them to make bows, javelins and spears. These craftsmen considered the wood of this tree to be superior to those from other trees.
In ancient times, this wood has been famously associated with weaponry. In fact, the Greek name for the wood was actually a synonym for spear in their local dialect. The word has been used in many Greek poetry in the forth and third century BC. In Italy, people traditionally used the cornelian cherry tree wood to make the uncino, mazzarella or bastone - which is a stick that was carried by the butteri from the Maremma region. These sticks were made from the Cornus mas wood, which is called corniolo in the various Italian dialect forms.
The bark of cornelian cherry trees was used to make a red dye, which is employed to make fezzes. Similarly, the leaves of this plant yield tannin.
Aside from their therapeutic uses, the fruits of cornelian cherry are also used for culinary purposes. When ripe between the middle of summer and towards the end of the season, these berry-like fruits resemble coffee berries. Ripened fruits of this plant are edible, but unripe fruits have an acerbic taste. In fact, the fruits of this shrub/ small tree ripen fully only after they fall on the ground. The completely ripe fruits have a deep ruby red hue. Alternately, some ripened fruits may also have a vivid yellow hue. The acidic flavour of these fruits can be best expressed as a blend of sour cherry and cranberry. The ripened cornelian fruits are primarily utilized for making jams. In addition, they can also be used to make a wonderful sauce, something very akin to cranberry sauce, especially when they are pitted and subsequently boiled with orange and sugar. However, if you wish you can also eat the dried cornelian cherry fruits directly.
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People in Armenia and Azerbaijan use these fruits for distilling vodka. Similarly in German Alps, Austria and Herzegovina, people use these fruits for distilling Dirndl brand, while they are distilled into raki in Bosnia and Albania. In Greece, people use cornelian cherry berries to prepare a home-made liqueur. On the other hand, people in Iran and Turkey eat the ripened fruits with salt in the form of a snack during the summer months. In addition, they also use the fruits to prepare a traditional cold drink locally named kizilcik serbeti.
Cornelian cherry trees flourish in nearly all varieties of garden soils, including clay, loam and sandy soils. However, this species has a preference for moist soils with proper drainage. Their growth is best when planted in this type of soil. Moreover, the trees will be benefited if the soil is mulched with a view to preserve moisture.
At the same time, the ideal soil pH should vary between 5.6 and 6.0 in case of acidic soils. The pH for mildly acidic soils should range from 6.1 to 6.5. If the trees are grown in neutral soils, the pH should be between 6.6 and 7.5, as this will promote the healthy growth of cornelian berry trees.
Trees belonging to this species possess the aptitude to grow well in direct sunlight as well in light shade conditions.
Cornelian cherry trees bear berry-like fruits, which ripen between mid-summer and towards the end of summer. In fact, these berries become completely ripe only after they fall from the trees. These berries have a deep red hue and they are handpicked from under the trees or bushes.