Toon, the edible, hardy mahogany

Toona sinensis, is also known as Cedrela sinensis, Fragrant Spring Tree, Beef and Onion Tree, Hardy Mahogany, Chinese Mahogany and many more names. It can be grown for timber, being a tall-growing mahogany. However, the tender young leaves can be eaten and have a garlicky, onion sort of taste. For this reason, and for supposed health reasons, it’s a popular Asian vegetable. I just harvested a gallon bag of tender tops.

Here are some of them. I’ll remove the tough stems before cooking. You can google many recipes, sauces, egg dishes to name a few. Because of the high nitrite level, boiling is a good first step if you’re going to eat any quantity. While Wikipedia mentions some other causes for concern, many other research papers and long history of use, suggest toxicity may be exaggerated, especially if harvested and treated correctly.


  1. Nitrites (you know, the bad stuff in fried bacon) increase in the leaves as they grow and it gets hot out; harvest only very young leaves until about mid April. We’ve been near freezing and are cool, so I felt ok picking them a bit under two weeks after that.

  2. Use a generous amount of water to boil the leaves in, to dilute the nitrites to
    safe levels.

  3. Toon must not be stored long; it needs to be fresh, as nitrates will increase in storage. This means, you pretty much have to grow it in order to harvest it in the spring for food.

You also must prune the tree heavily to keep branches and leaves within reach. Otherwise the tender leaves may end up at the top of a very tall tree!

A surprising number of beneficial compounds are found in Toon. Here’s a link to a research paper, for those who wish to read more about it.


I’m not sure if this technique will work; but, in theory, it should. Since Toon tries to grow tall, out of reach, I bent some limbs and weighed them down, so the branches are horizontal.

The hope is that by reducing apical dominance (the tallest part grows the fastest. more side buds will sprout. Regardless, it will make harvesting easier.

From what I’ve read, an 80 second boil/blanch in water is enough to reduce nitrite levels to within safe margins. Incidentally, harmful levels of nitrites and nitrates have also been found in raw spinach and lettuce. (see Lammarino, Taranto, Cristino).

Here’s more information about nitrites and nitrates in food.

With any vegetable high in nitrites or nitrates, it’s important not to subject them to high heat, such as grilling, high-temperature frying, etc. Nitrosamines, carcinogens, can form under these circumstances (as can happen with bacon).

Toon is often sautéed with raw egg, which is a lower heat process. Toon is also delicious in soups. I’ll try to post a follow-up on the “Toon Training”. I started quite a few Toon seedlings last year and they appear to have survived the winter, in their pots, heeled into a pile of mulch.


The horizontal training seems to have worked. The first flush of Toon tips got frozen when it dropped to 29°F (-1.6°C). But the second flush went into a baked egg dish with shiitake mushrooms, sautéd onions & peppers spices, with blanched, chopped Toon.

These younger shoots are near the ideal size. Some varieties are much more red at this stage.


Well done! How will you use them?

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Toon is commonly cooked in egg dishes. I’ve also shallow/deep fried them crispy as a topping for stir fries. The latter was an experiment which worked. The ones above went into a sort of frittata type dish. I just picked and blanched some more yesterday, which will get the crispy-fry treatment. I’m pretty sure the shoots picked yesterday will be the last; I don’t want to kill the tree!


This year’s Toon were blanched briefly, which made them easy to arrange in an oiled skillet. After a bit of frying, some beaten eggs were poured on top and slowly cooked. I thought it looks better than the usual chopped-up scrambled eggs,

It was prettier before it got cut in half. The flavors go well together.


Looks delicious!

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Interesting – thank you for sharing. I will keep an eye out at an asian supermarket next I’m there.