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Using Chinaberries as Natural Beads for Jewelry

Chinaberry seeds

Chinaberry seeds

Chinaberry Seed Beads

Around the Central Valley of California, we have an abundance of a tree my mother introduced as a Chinaberry Tree. It is a softwood tree that has fragrant sweet white blooms in the spring and produces a hard, woody seed in the fall.

As I understand it, these trees are native to India and Africa but have since been transplanted to warm weather areas where they can thrive, specifically Florida and California, where I live. These make great shade trees and are easy and fast growing from seed. The downfall is that the branches tend to crack and break in severe weather.

I remember loving to climb them as a preteen because the branches tend to be close to the ground level and spread out, making great places to sit high and get comfortable. I stopped climbing them when one day after a rainstorm, the branch cracked under me and I rode it to the ground, knocking the wind out of me.

Chinaberries ripen in the fall

Chinaberries ripen in the fall

My Introduction to China Berry Beads

My mother introduced me to the possibilities of making jewelry from these seeds when I was a preteen. She showed me how to harvest the berries in the late fall and then boil them. Boiling made the outer skin slide off more easily. We then would sit at around the table peeling off the skins and letting the seeds dry on a paper towel.

Note: these seeds stink when boiled so crack a window open.

As an adult, I did some research on the Chinaberry tree and found that the seeds are toxic, even poisonous if eaten. Naturally, I never would have known. It is the pulp and skin that is toxic; the parts you boil and discard. Be sure to dispose of the pulp thoroughly. Other than that precaution, these make charming naturally fluted, woody beads without carving. The green berries turn tan in the fall. When the leaves of the tree drop off, they are easy to harvest.

Chinaberry beads

Chinaberry beads

Coloring or Dying

The next step of coloring can be done a number of ways. My mother pulled out the food coloring and cups of water with vinegar to set the color, just like coloring Easter eggs. We put as many of the wooden seeds as we wanted in each color and let them set for an hour or so. Later we pulled them out and let them dry again on paper towels.

On a rainy day, we would sit before the fire and string beads for fun. Using regular sewing thread and needles, some were easy and some were hard to string. They are, after all, seeds and unpredictable. Most have a natural hole through the center of the seed, but some had deformities causing the hole on one side to be closed up or curved so the needle wouldn't go through straight. We tossed those in the "Oh well" pile.

These beads are charming and rustic-looking. I love the natural look, but you can also varnish them after they are colored. I have even used clear nail polish on them for a high gloss.


Chinaberry beads have natural holes in them that are perfect for making jewelry

Chinaberry beads have natural holes in them that are perfect for making jewelry

Final Thoughts

You can mix these with other commercial beads or paper beads as you like. They aren't very heavy like some glass beads so I find them comfortable to wear and sweetly rustic. There are a lot of things out there you could make natural beads with, but these have a natural hole through the center so they are perfect. What's stopping you from trying them to see? Leave me a comment to let me know what you think or if you have tried them.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Leave An Itty Beady Comment

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 27, 2021:

Cindy Rachels,

That sticky goo will just wash off with water and when the bead is dry, what is left will dry up too. Some of the more stubborn ones, I scrubbed with a toothbrush, but I didn't have to do that with very many. Mostly they just dry nice and hard. Thanks for commenting.



Cindy Rachels on March 14, 2020:

I just boiled some china berries. The skin came off but there is still a sticky goo around the wooden seed. How do I get it off?

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 11, 2015:

Thank you Liza for commenting.

liza on December 08, 2014:

I really like beading! And I really like the concept of creating interchangeable Jewelry items, especially necklaces and bracelets. What a cool idea!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 14, 2014:

@Elyn MacInnis: What great ideas. Thanks so much for visiting!

Elyn MacInnis from Shanghai, China on July 14, 2014:

This is so much fun. My specialty is making beads from rose and other flower petals. But I have also strung cloves (soak the overnight) and alspice berries at Christmas for a "Christmassy smelling necklace." Great to meet you!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 20, 2014:

@AcornOakForest: Thank you so much. I love the look of them too.

Monica Lobenstein from Western Wisconsin on June 20, 2014:

I love using hand crafted beads in jewelry. Really great lens! I especially liked the chinaberry seed beads.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 18, 2014:

@julieannbrady: Me too. I'm a nature girl... I always felt like all we need is already in nature.

julieannbrady on June 18, 2014:

I really love the idea of using natural components for jewelry making.