Cornus mas L. (cornelian cherry), an important European and Asian traditional food and medicine: Ethnomedicine, phytochemistry and pharmacology for its commercial utilization in drug industry

J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec 4:193:670-690. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.09.042. Epub 2016 Oct 2.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Cornus mas L. (cornelian cherry) fruits have been used for centuries as traditional cuisine and folk medicine in various countries of Europe and Asia. In folk medicines, the fruits and other parts of the plant have been used for prevention and treatment of a wide range of diseases such as diabetes, diarrhea, gastrointestinal disorders, fevers, rheumatic pain, skin and urinary tract infections, kidney and liver diseases, sunstroke, among others. This review provides a systematic and constructive overview of ethnomedicinal uses, chemical constituents and pharmacological activities of this plant as well as future research need for its commercial utilization as nutraceutical food supplement and medicine.

Materials and methods: This review is based on available literature on ethnomedicinal uses, phytochemical, pharmacological, toxicity and clinical studies on Cornus mas L. (cornelian cherry) fruits and other organs that was collected from electronic (SciFinder, PubMed, Science Direct and ACS among others) and library searches of books and journals.

Results: Versatile ethnomedicinal uses of the plant in different European and Asian countries have been reported. Phytochemical investigations on different parts of this plant have resulted in the identification of 101 compounds, among which anthocyanins, flavonoids and iridoids are the predominant groups. The crude extracts of fruits and other parts of the plant and their pure isolates exhibit a broad spectrum of pharmacological activities such as anti-microbial, anti-diabetic, anti-atherosclerotic, cyto-, hepato-, neuro- and renalprotective, antiplatelet and antiglaucomic activities. Anthocyanins, flavonoids, iridoids and vitamin C are the major bioactive constituents of the fruits. Fruits are non-toxic and safe food on acute toxicity studies in rat and human models. Clinical trials in diabetic type2 and hyperlipidemic patients showed significant trends of amelioration in sugar level, insulin secretion in diabetic patients and amelioration of lipid profile, apolipoprotein status and vascular inflammation in hyperlipidemic patients.

Conclusion: Based on our review, Cornus mas L. (cornelian cherry) fruits and leaves can be used mainly in the treatment of diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis, skin diseases, gastrointestinal and rheumatic problems. Some indications from ethnomedicines have been validated by pharmacological activities of the fruits and its extracts/pure isolates. The reported data reveal that the fruits are a potential source for treatment of diabetes, obesity, hyperlipidemia and gastrointestinal disorders. Unfortunately, the pharmacological studies in these areas are still insufficient to substantiate these preventive effects in confirmatory trials on the mass-scale clinical settings. Future studies on mechanisms of action, bioavailability, pharmacokinetics and adverse effects of the extracts and their bioactive constituents as well as their effective doses and long term toxic effects in humans are needed for commercial applications of these extracts/isolates in modern medicines. The available literature showed that most of the activities of the extracts are due to their constituents, anthocyanins, flavonoids and other phenolics, iridoids and vitamins for their antioxidant and other properties.

Keywords: Cornelian cherry; Cornus mas L.; Ethnomedicine; Pharmacology; Phytochemistry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asia
  • Cornus / chemistry*
  • Cornus / growth & development
  • Drug Industry / methods*
  • Europe
  • Fruit / chemistry*
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Plant Dispersal
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry*
  • Plant Preparations / isolation & purification
  • Plant Preparations / pharmacology*


  • Plant Preparations