Enjoy Toyon Berries All Winter


Winter brings with it the colorful red berries of our native Toyon, also called “Christmas Berry” (Heteromeles arbutifolia). Besides being an attractive, fire-resistant, evergreen shrub (or tree if pruned), Toyon produces clusters of bright red berries that persist all winter, providing perfect holiday decorations for mantels, wreaths, and centerpieces. We have been picking clusters from our yard the past few weeks to use for holiday arrangements, and are sharing them with friends for their decorations. We still have plenty to share with the birds who also love the berries.

Native American Indians used the cooked or dried berries for food and beverages, as well as for dyes and paints. If you have toyons in your yard, or have a harvesting area in our chaparral communities in the foothills or mountains of southern California, check now for the ripe berries in time for Christmas decorations. After the holidays, dry the berries to use for recipes later. Some of the traditional uses for the berries include:

Toyon fruit leather (fresh berries simmered, then blended in a food processor, sweetened, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, then spread thin onto parchment and dehydrated)

Toyon “not-quite-cranberry” sauce (fresh berries simmered in apple juice, sweetened with honey, thickened with arrowroot, and spiced with orange zest)

Toyon berry spice (dried berries ground into a fine powder, then combined with other flours or used as a spice for a tangy, fruity taste)

Toyon cider (dried berries boiled in water while crushing them, then strained, and sweetening the “cider” with honey or agave)

Winter bouquet including Toyon berries, strawberry tree fruit, sugarbush,
and California juniper.