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Toyon berries grow from Toyon shrubs. They’re often used to create Christmas decorations and are the most popular choice for wreaths. These vibrant berries have been used for several centuries throughout California and a few surrounding states. So, what can you do with them?
You can use toyon berries to make jelly, tea, or dried berry snacks. Always dry or bake the berries to remove the cyanide naturally found in the plant. You can also create a stylish, colorful door wreath with a handful of toyon berries on the shrub’s flexible branches.
Throughout this article, we’ll explain how to eat toyon berries, tips to make delicious berry tea, and how you can decorate your home with toyon plants.
Can You Eat Toyon Berries?
You can eat toyon berries, but you have to dry or cook them before consuming them.
The best way to cook toyon berries is to boil them for 15 to 20 minutes, remove the seeds, and eat them once they cool down. You can also create various toyon berry jellies by adding sugar, lemon zest, or honey.
Native Americans used toyon berries as one of their primary food sources (source). They pack a delicious and unique punch to numerous meals, including fruit jellies and pastes.
In modern times, people use toyon berries in tea, cookies, oatmeal, pancakes, and more. Once dried and seeded, they can be consumed or used in recipes like any other berry.
How Do You Dry Toyon Berries?
To dry toyon berries, follow these steps:
- Cover a large baking sheet with a piece of aluminum foil. The foil prevents the berries from baking on the sheet, which could ruin them. It also helps the sunlight heat the berries from below much more efficiently.
- Place one layer of toyon berries over the foil. Never layer the berries or they won’t dry evenly. Remember, the goal is to dry or dehydrate the toyon berries, not to bake them to a crisp.
- Choose between low-heating baking, sun-drying, or dehydrating the toyon berries. You can put toyon berries in the oven for 10-20 minutes at 200 °F (93 °C) for the best results (source).
- Consume the berries and remove the seeds (or vice versa). Avoid eating the hard seeds. They’ll cause indigestion, stomach pain, and dental issues. Toyon berry seeds are incredibly hard, but the berries are soft and easy to bite through.
Note: If you choose to sun-dry your toyon berries, leave them on the baking sheet in direct sunlight for the whole day. The skin should feel dry, not hydrated or wet.
Make Toyon Berry Tea
Toyon berry tea offers all of the health benefits of eating toyon berries without seeds. You can make delicious toyon tea with toyon berries and leaves. Make sure you wash the berries and leaves before adding them to boiling water.
You can add other herbs and spices to make hot cider or fermented tea.
Keep these tips in mind when making toyon berry tea:
- Boil the water before adding in the toyon berries. It helps eliminate all of the cyanide and bitterness from the toyon berries. You can also boil the berries along with the water for 15 minutes to get rid of the natural toxicity and bitterness. However, you’ll need a new cup of boiling water to make the tea using the pre-boiled berries.
- Add a few dried toyon leaves to the boiling water with the berries. The leaves are packed with nutrients. It’s also used for medicinal scrubs.
- Add dried toyon berries and leaves to boiled water for 5 to 6 minutes, then remove them (unless you don’t mind the bitterness from the tea). This alternative assumes you already dried the berries and leaves with one of the previously mentioned drying methods.
You could also squeeze the juice of a few toyon berries into the tea when it’s done steeping. This will boost the flavor profile without adding too much sugar from artificial sweeteners or cane sugar.
Top it off with a teaspoon of honey and a lemon slice for delicious caffeine-free tea at any time of the day.
Create a Wreath for Chrismas With Toyon Berries
Toyon berry wreaths are the most popular wreaths you’ll come across. They thrive in cold winter weather, making them excellent choices for an array of decorations. All you need is a pair of garden shears, gloves, and hot glue. You can add a bow if you want to spice up the wreath.
Follow these steps to make a toyon berry wreath:
- Snip multiple flexible sticks between 1-3 feet (30-90 cm) long. The size depends on how big you want the wreath to be. You can cut them from the toyon berry shrub or from cedar trees and other woody plants. Pro-tip: Younger stems and sticks seem to last longer and flex better.
- Intertwine the sticks to form a circle. You only need two or three to make a solid circle for your wreath, but adding several more will make it look fuller and better for holding the greenery.
- Use hot glue to attach the toyon leaves and berries to the wreath circle. Cover as much of the woody portion as possible. You can also add pine cores to create a festive appearance. Keep plenty of the red, vibrant toyon berries near the front of the wreath.
- Hang the toyon berry wreath on a hook anywhere in or around your home. These wreaths can last well over a month before they start to get too dry. Mist them daily to make them last up to three or four months.
Toyon berries might look beautiful, but they also have numerous recipes and decorations you can create. Remember to dry your toyon berries and remove the seeds before consuming them.
These berries are best to harvest during late autumn through early winter, hence why they’re such popular Christmas plants.