Toona sinensis (syn. Cedrella sinensis)
This attractive deciduous tree is also known as Chinese cedar, although it is actually a member of the mahogany family (and one of the cold hardiest). In spring the young leaves are a bright pink colour as they emerge, fading to to a pale yellow before turning green. Leaves are 30cm – 60cm long, with alternate leaflets growing along a red stalk. In autumn the leaves turn an orange-yellow. This is the true species, not the ‘Flamingo’ variety, as this one is the true culinary plant.
A highly esteemed food plant in China, it is extensively cultivated for its new shoots and leaves, which are crisp, crunchy, and distinctly aromatic, with a floral, onion-like aroma when fresh. When cooked, they impart an earthy, pungent flavor that tastes like a combination of garlic, mustard greens, and fermented chives. They are commonly served blanched, used in stir fries and egg dishes, or made into a paste with sesame oil, salt, and sugar, which can be stored in the refrigerator for two months. This paste can be used as a condiment or as a flavoring for noodle and tofu dishes. Toon leaves can also be chopped or ground and used to make dumplings, mixed with fresh bean curd as a side dish, or battered and fried as a snack.
The leaves also have many medicinal uses and can be used as a tea substitute.. They are a good source of antioxidants, and contain beta-carotene, vitamin E, riboflavin, folic acid, calcium, iron, and protein. The bark is astringent, carminative, febrifuge, ophthalmic and styptic. A decoction is used in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. The leaf, bark, fruit, and roots are all used in traditional Chinese medicine and are believed to help lower blood sugar, help defend the body against oxygen loss, and help reduce fertility issues.
The wood is perfumed and small twigs and branches can be burnt as incense, whilst the mature wood, which resembles mahogany, is good for furniture making, window frames and guitars as it is durable and easily worked and polished.
Although this tree can grow to 20m tall, it can easily be pruned to keep it manageable in a small urban garden. It is tolerant of most soils but prefers a moist but well-drained loam. It needs a sunny spot, and is both heat and frost hardy, although new shoots may get damaged in spring frosts.
PB5 Certified organic plant.