Less Noise, More Green: Foraging for Kousa Dogwood berries and muffin recipe

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Foraging for Kousa Dogwood berries and muffin recipe

Photo by Kathy Schnabel

Living in a city, or suburb, does not mean there are no opportunities for foraging; you just have to know where to look. Sometimes you don't need to look further than your own backyard.

I recently visited Cluck, an urban homestead supply store in Providence, with my fellow Master Gardener friend, Kathy. We both bought Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos, which is a lovely book about discovering edible plants in your neighborhood. 

After perusing the pages, Kathy called to tell me she has a Kousa Dogwood in her front yard and it’s bursting with berries.

"It’s in the book. What do you think?"
Of course, the first thing I asked her was if she had tasted a berry. This foraging thing is new to her, but she went out and picked a couple. They were delicious. She brought me a couple to try and they were nothing like I expected. The flesh was orange with a creamy texture and a taste like mangoes. The skin was rough and the berry contained several large seeds, but the flesh was divine.

                                             Henryhartley at the English language Wikipedia

Cornus Kousa, or Japanese Dogwood, is not native to the US but is not considered an invasive species. It is a favorite ornamental tree in yards and parks because of its showy white bracts (not flowers).  The berries appear in late summer. About the size of cherries, the fruit starts out yellow and turns a rosy red color when ripe. The berries have a distinctive bumpy skin. The taste can vary from tree to tree, so it is advisable to try a few before you strip the tree of its berries!

Photo by Kathy Schnabel

A few days later I get an email from Kathy.
"The squirrels are eating the berries! We better act fast!"
The next day we harvested 5lbs, 12 ounces of fruit in the rain, climbing all over her yard, stepping on plants and using a hoe to bend over the top branches enough to get the best fruit.

Once at home, I washed the berries, then started pushing them through my food mill. I couldn’t believe how much puree I was getting! 5 lbs, 12 ounces yielded almost six cups of pulp; almost a cup a pound.  I started thinking about what I could do with my half of the bounty (I froze a good portion for later). Could I use it as a fresh condiment on grilled chicken? Yes! As a base for a salad dressing? Absolutely. How about as the main ingredients in muffins?

Here is my recipe for Kousa Dogwood Berry Muffins. The flavor is more subtle than eating the puree on its own, but the texture is moist and tender. 

Kousa Dogwood Berry Muffins

Yields 12
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and grease a standard twelve cup muffin tin.

2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda, sieved
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups Kousa Dogwood berry puree
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup (5 1/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sliced almonds and raw cane sugar to sprinkle on top of the muffins.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the puree, sugar, butter, egg and extract.
Add to the flour mixture and fold in until just combined. Do not over mix.
Divide the mixture between the muffin cups and sprinkle with sliced almonds and the raw sugar.
Bake until the tops are brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. 20-25 minutes.
Cool before removing from the pan.

These muffins are unbelievably good. Try them warm with butter and a little fresh puree spread on top.

Thanks for sharing, Kathy. Grab your wellies, a knife, a bag and a sense of adventure. The foraging book highlights sixty five plants- one down, sixty four to go.


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Kousa Dogwood Berry Muffin Recipe


  1. Thank you for being part of this great eyeopener into the world of backyard foraging!
    As you would say, "Welcome to my world"!

  2. Hi, we have some kousa dogwood ripe on a tree nearby here in Wellington, New Zealand. Please can you tell me, when you pulped the berries, was that skin included? Or do you peel them first? Thank you.

    1. Hi,
      I put the berries whole through a food mill and it did a wonderful job of removing the pulp from the skin and the seed. I would taste a berry from the tree before you harvest and process. Apparently, not all Kousa Dogwood berries have a pleasant taste. I hope you like the pulp as much as we did!

  3. I just happened upon this looking for info on my kousa fruit. My tree is ripe with them here in Coventry. Have you been using the berries in any other ways?

    1. Hi Diane, I think you can use the berry pulp any way you would use fruit puree. I really like it as a condiment with chicken. It would also work in smoothies or swirled into yogurt. If you have an ice cream maker I bet it would make a great addition to a basic vanilla ice cream recipe. Let me know if you make anything good!

  4. I have a TON of Kousa fruit on my two trees. I do not own a food mill. Would a blender or mini food processor work? Did you remove the skin or seeds before pureeing?

  5. I made jelly last year, and just picked 2 quarts. I don’t have a food mill, either;(
    I did put some seeds in a zip lock with potting soil, in the fridge over winter. I now have half a dozen foot tall plants to put along the back of my yard. Will be making jelly. It’s a lovely color, and I just boiled the fruit and strained through cheese cloth, then added some spices, vanilla, sugar, and sure jell.

    1. Hi, I planted the tree last year. I tried to taste the fruit, but it hasn't grown yet. My tree is still young. Could you give me a little help? I still don't know what it tastes like. Is it delicious to make jam? I am a third grader in middle school in Korea, and I may not be able to deliver it well because I am not good at English. But I try to deliver as well as I can.

    2. I think your English is excellent. I plan to make jam this year from my very old trees.

  6. New home and a new tree. So excited to try this when its time. Thank you.

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  9. I just tried one of my ripe Kousa dogwood berries it was sweet! I may have to try that muffin recipe, gonna print it thanks! Diane

  10. I have a Koupsa Dogwood tree and didnt realize what it was for 16 years!! Just researched and tasted the fruit. Some are soft and custard-like and some are not as ripe. Not all have seed in them. I live in a sandy soil area so I think the tree is lacking water and nutrients for larger fruit with a higher water content. I will water, fertilize and prune tree to see if fruiting improves. I do enjoy the fruit but there is not much pulp to be harvested. Quite a treat to snack on! and pretty in a bowl. Looking forward to trying a few recipes, thanks for the ideas~

  11. Its said when you cook them, they loose a lot of their medicinal properties. Also you can eat the skin as well : )

  12. Found a ton of these in my neighborhood with my son today - we picked the tree in front of our house and our neighbors saw them and invited us to pick theirs as well - going to give this recipe a try!