It is a medium to large deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5–12 m tall, with dark brown branches and greenish twigs. The leaves are opposite, 4–10 cm long and 2–4 cm broad, with an ovate to oblong shape and an entire margin. The flowers are small (5–10 mm diameter), with four yellow petals, produced in clusters of 10–25 together in the late winter (between February and March in the UK),<ref name=oxford>Template:Cite book</ref> well before the leaves appear. The fruit is an oblong red drupe 2 cm long and 1.5 cm in diameter, containing a single seed.
The fruits when ripe on the plant bear a resemblance to coffee berries, and ripen in mid- to late summer. The fruit is edible (mainly consumed in Eastern Europe, UK,<ref name=oxford/> and Iran), but the unripe fruit is astringent. The fruit only fully ripens after it falls from the tree. When ripe, the fruit is dark ruby red or a bright yellow. It has an acidic flavour which is best described as a mixture of cranberry and sour cherry; it is mainly used for making jam, makes an excellent sauce similar to cranberry sauce when pitted and then boiled with sugar and orange, but also can be eaten dried. In Azerbaijan and Armenia, the fruit is used for distilling vodka, in Austria and German Alps is used for distilling Dirndlbrand, in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina it is distilled into raki, and in Greece crana berries are used to make home-made liqueur. In Turkey and Iran it is eaten with salt as a snack in summer, and traditionally drunk in a cold drink called kızılcık şerbeti. Cultivars selected for fruit production in Ukraine have fruit up to four cm long. It is eaten in Eastern Europe in many ways including as a medicine. It is very high in vitamin C and is used to fight colds and flus.
The fruit of C. mas (together with the fruit of C. officinalis) has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. Known as Template:Linktext, Template:Lang, it is used to retain the jing, essence, to tonify the kidneys, and in cases of spermatorrhea.<ref name="Schafer">Template:Cite book</ref>
The species is also grown as an ornamental plant for its late winter yellow flowers, which open earlier than those of Forsythia. While Cornus mas flowers are not as large and vibrant as those of the Forsythia, the entire plant can be used for a similar effect in the landscape.
The wood of C. mas is extremely dense and, unlike the wood of most other woody plant species, sinks in water. This density makes it valuable for crafting into tool handles, parts for machines, etc.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> Cornus mas was used from the seventh century BC onward by Greek craftsmen to construct spears, javelins and bows, the craftsmen considering it far superior to any other wood.<ref name = Markle>Template:Cite journal</ref> The wood's association with weaponry was so well known that the Greek name for it was used as a synonym for "spear" in poetry during the fourth and third centuries BC.<ref name = Markle/> In Italy, the mazzarella, uncino or bastone, the stick carried by the butteri or mounted herdsmen of the Maremma region, is traditionally made of cornel-wood, there called crognolo or grugnale, dialect forms of Template:Lang-it.<ref name="alta m">Template:Cite web</ref>
The shrub was not native to the British Isles. William Turner had only heard of the plant in 1548,<ref>Turner, The Names of Herbes, 1548; noted in Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories (1964) 1992, .s.v. "Cornus".</ref> but by 1551 he had heard of one at Hampton Court Palace.<ref>Turner, A New Herball, 1551, noted in Coats.</ref> Gerard said it was to be found in the gardens "of such as love rare and dainty plants".<ref name=Gerard/>
The appreciation of the early acid-yellow flowers is largely a 20th-century development.<ref>Coats (1964) 1992.</ref>
- ’Aurea’<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> (yellow leaves and flowers, red fruit)
- ’Golden Glory’<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> (profuse yellow flowers, shiny red berries)
- ’Variegata’<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> (variegated leaves, glossy red fruit)
- National Agricultural Research Foundation - Pomology Institute (NAGEF-PI): Cornus mas
- Greek website about the plant (english)