Fruits, bark, leaves.
The toyon berries were an important food source for the native tribes. They also used it in their tribal medicine to treat digestive disorders, after preparing it as a tea. Native Americans prepared the fruits as jelly and preserved them in dried form in order to include them as an ingredient in cakes or a form of porridge. European settlers prepared wine and custard by adding sugar to the fruits. Toyon berries are known as pomes. They were extremely popular among the tribes in what is today the state of California. Some of the tribes that routinely harvested and consumed the berries were the Tongva, the Costanoan, the Luiseno, the Cahuilla, the Chumash and the Kumeyaay. It is possible to consume the pomes raw but they have a strong bitter and pungent taste. The easiest way to prepare them is as a jelly after drying them. An alternative discovered by the first European settlers was to only gather the fruits when overripe. Heating them before consumption was another method to further sweeten their taste. Cahuilla and Costanoan Native American tribes mainly used the fruit for cooking. It was also important in their medicine as a treatment for infected wounds, when prepared as a leaves or bark infusion. Today, it is no longer a secret that most berries have medicinal effects. Some of the most commonly used are the black elderberry as an immunity booster and the white mulberry to reduce the level of blood sugar. Toyon fruits also improve the immune response and can fight cold and other minor infections. Infusions of toyon leaves were also used by Costanoan tribesmen, as a method to control and regulate the menstruation cycle of young women. The area of Los Angeles was inhabited by the Luiseno people, who harvested the toyon berries as a food source. They consumed them raw, after letting them in the sun for several days in order to improve their taste. Another tribe that used the shrub for its medicinal benefits was the Kumeyaay. They turned leaves and bark into an infusion that was a useful antiseptic agent when applied on infected wounds. The Mahuna tribe believed the berries were able to quench their thirst when no water was available. This might be explained by an increased production of saliva, due to the bitter taste of the berries. The toyon fruit was an important food resource for many Californian tribes. Besides those already mentioned, it was also consumed by the Luiseno, Hupa, Wappo, Salinan, Maidu, Karok, Sierra Miwok, Yuki and Pomo. Native Americans only harvested the berries when they were very ripe, in order to be less bitter. They ate them raw or prepared them by roasting or boiling. The Sierra Miwok used a deep oven of narrow earth to cook the fruits. An easier processing method used by local tribesmen was to just keep the berries in a basket for two months. They were then consumed after parching with coals. The berries were known to be pucker due to the astringent taste. A decoction prepared from the bark and leaves was used by the Yuki tribe as a treatment for digestive pain and other body aches in general. The toyon fruits are also a major source of food for many species of birds. These include band-tailed pigeons, thrashers, northern red-breasted sapsuckers, thrashers, wren-tits and other game birds and songbirds. The toyon berries are also consumed by mammals like the portola wood rat and the large-eared wood rat.
It is possible to cultivate the toyon in your garden if the soil has good drainage. The red berries are spectacular during the winter and attract many birds who feed on them. The species can be found in the wild all across California and rarely in Oregon. Established toyon plants are quite hardy and tolerate drought quite well. If the soil is well-drained, they also tolerate water. The species grows on many types of soil, for example beach sand or adobe soils based on serpentine. It enjoys locations with full sun exposure but will also develop in the shade. In the wild, toyon is found in scattered stands at elevations lower than 1220 m. It thrives on rocky slopes in semi-dry conditions, on mountains, hills and canyon bottoms. The toyon shares the vulnerability to fire blight of its Rosaceae family relatives and some of its cultivars can be affected by it. Otherwise, toyon is a good choice in gardens because it's less likely to catch fire than most other chaparral species and is recommended for xeriscape gardening since it needs a low amount of water.