Did you know that a plant indigenous to Belize and Central America Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius, but also known as Cnidoscolus Chayamansa) has anti-diabetic properties?
Recent scientific studies confirmed what Belizean natural healers and Maya shaman have known for centuries – eating a small amount of Chaya after or as part of a meal will lower blood glucose levels.
A study conducted by the Mexican National Institute of Nutrition concludes that Chaya will not only combat diabetes but is also effective in treating arthritis. Another study conducted by Texas A&M University confirmed the anti-diabetic properties of Chaya. “Following the oral administration of chaya tea, the blood glucose levels of the diabetic rabbits were gradually lowered from a high of 118 (baseline at 0.0 h) to 87 six hours after administration. The blood glucose level of 87 is similar to blood glucose levels of normoglycemic rabbits on drinking water.”
Chaya was used by the Maya in their healing practices and to this day it is common to observe Chaya trees growing around Mayan temples in Belize. Diabetes is common in Belize and among native American populations in the U.S.A. and even among those who do not consider themselves native American but have native American markers in their DNA. Research has shown that indigenous Americans have adopted modern American style diets with high fat, carbohydrates and sugar content and their bodies simply cannot handle this diet.
- Chaya Grows Wild In Belize
- Incorporate Chaya Into Your Diet
- Chaya and Corn Tortillas Recipe
- Chaya Nutritional Composition
- Chaya Anti-diabetic Effect
- Cure More Than 100 Diseases By Drinking Chaya Tea
- Chaya Tea Can Cure Up To 100 Diseases
- What? People Have Been Eating This for Centuries!
- What are the Benefits of Chaya?
- But, Wait! There’s More Awesomeness to Behold
- How Can You Put Chaya on the Dinner Plate?
- Planting vegetables near trees
- Chaya, the Maya miracle plant
Chaya Grows Wild In Belize
Chaya is native to Belize but many Belizeans are not familiar with these plants. Chaya is a hardy plant that bears numerous deep green leaves and some say resembles spinach. But is has far more nutritional value compared to spinach. The young shoots and tender leaves of chaya are cooked and eaten like spinach. They comprise part of the staple diet and are the main dietary source of leafy vegetable for the indigenous people of Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and Kekchi people of Alta Verapaz in Guatemala (Harris and Munsell 1950; Booth et al. 1992).
Chaya traditionally has been recommended for a number of ailments including diabetes, obesity, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, acne, and eye problems (Diaz-Bolio 1975). Chaya shoots and leaves have been taken as a laxative, diuretic, circulation stimulant, to improve digestion, to stimulate lactation, and to harden the fingernails (Rowe 1994). Like most food plants such as lima beans, cassava, and many leafy vegetables, the leaves contain hydrocyanic glycosides, a toxic compound easily destroyed by cooking. Even though some people tend to eat raw chaya leaves, it is unwise to do so. Most folks lightly boil the Chaya and drink the resulting “tea”.
Incorporate Chaya Into Your Diet
Here is how to make Chaya Tea: Chaya tea – five large chaya leaves (more if smaller). Cut up into small pieces and oiled lightly in one liter water for 20 minutes. Cool. Add pinch of salt and squeeze of lime. Drink about three cups throughout the day. Chaya tea is a natural diuretic keeps the lines clean. Lower blood sugar for diabetics Reputedly keeps the liver ‘clean’.
Others use Chaya as part of the meal, chop it up and mix it with sausage or longanisa and scrambled eggs. Others lightly boil the leaves and use it as spinach in a salad. Other has more creative and tasty recipe on how to incorporate this into Belize Cuisine.
One of our Belize.com contributors Peter Singfield also known as the Snakeman for his work in researching traditional Maya healing practices in northern Belize, shared how he gets he incorporates Chaya into his diet.
Chaya and Corn Tortillas Recipe
Ingredients: Chaya leaf – a good size bunch. (Note handling advice)
Natural pig lard One or two onions. Fresh Corn tortillas Optional: Fresh Habanero Pepper Optional: Two eggs
Method: You pick a number of nice fat healthy dark green chaya leaves. Careful though — the edges of a Chaya leaf are full of tiny spines – that cause bad rash once in your skin!!
You then take your leaf and wash it. I then roll it up like a fat cigar and chop it with a sharp knife to “pieces” I usually also chop up one or two onions – plus a Habanaro pepper or two — and add that to the mix as well. Then take a good fry pan — lay down about 1/4 in fresh natural pig lard on the bottom. That too is a super food for your body. Salt well – or to taste.
Now — put over fire. Now the real “secret” – As soon as the pan warms up even a little bit – -stir the mix into the fat – then add sufficient rain water — say 1/2 inch level in that fry pan. Turn up the heat till it steams well – then put on big cover — and turn down heat so it but simmers. Leave it that way for 1/2 hour or more – raising cover and stirring about once every 10 minutes or so. When finished – there should be no water – or very little left – but do not let get fry hot in the fat — as that kills all the vitamins. Drain off excess water and fat — put in serving bowl — ready.
Now – take fresh tortilla – home made if you can get them. Fold it in the palm of your hand – fill with a fair amount of chaya leaf mix – – fold and roll gently and enjoy. You can also add eggs and / or some chopped up chicharrón to the mix – but do that only in the last 5 minutes of pan cooking – stirring it in.
Chaya Nutritional Composition
The nutritional analysis of chaya (C. chayamansa) leaves and spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) are presented for comparison.
Chaya leaf furnishes appreciable quantities of several of the essential mineral macronutrients necessary for human health maintenance. For example, potassium has been shown to be an important mineral nutrient in the control of hypertension and in the reduction of risks of stroke (NRC 1989), calcium is important for ossification and iron is necessary for normal hematopoiesis (Hodges et al. 1978).
Brise and Hallberg (1962) reported that vegetables, such as chaya, with high vitamin C content may enhance absorption of nonheme iron. Analysis of raw and cooked samples of chaya leaves revealed that cooking may increase the relative composition of carbohydrate and fat and decrease relative composition of crude fiber and protein (Fig. 2).
On the other hand, cooked samples of chaya leaves were considerably higher in calcium, phosphorus and iron while the potassium content was relatively lower than in the raw samples. The increase in some of the mineral nutrients may be due to the cooking process, which allows extraction of the nutrients from the tissues, therefore increasing the percentage of mineral elements while decreasing moisture content (Booth et al. 1992).
Chaya Anti-diabetic Effect
Following the oral administration of chaya tea, the blood glucose levels of the diabetic rabbits were gradually lowered from a high of 118 (baseline at 0.0 h) to 87 six hours after administration. The blood glucose level of 87 is similar to blood glucose levels of normoglycemic rabbits on drinking water. The blood glucose levels of non-diabetic control rabbits that were given chaya tea showed a slight increase (i.e. hyperglycemia) above the baseline 85 at 1 to 2 h after administration, but rapidly stabilized thereafter.
The reason for this transient hyperglycemia is unknown and needs to be investigated. The results obtained in this study suggest that in STZ-induced diabetic rabbits, aqueous leaf extracts of C. chayamansa may be effective for treatment of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) symptomatology. This is a first report on hypoglycemic effect of chaya plants. The present report is preliminary in nature and additional studies will be needed to properly characterize the antidiabetic potential of chaya in diabetic animals. Also further studies will be necessary to determine the effective dosage, mechanism of the hypoglycemic activity and the active hypoglycemic principle present in the leaves of C. chayamansa.
Compiled with assistance from Peter Singfield.
Peter is an Electrical Engineer who emigrated from his native Canada and now makes his home in Corozal, Northern Belize. Mr. Singfield has done extensive research and study of Mayan culture, especially their diet and ancient healing practices. He is considered a shaman and natural healer and lives in a tightly knit Mayan community in the suburbs of Corozal Town. You can contact Peter at: [email protected]
Cure More Than 100 Diseases By Drinking Chaya Tea
Chaya Tea Can Cure Up To 100 Diseases
Chaya tea was also called as “God’s Gift” because it can cure more than 10 diseases because of its incredible health benefits to the body.
Chaya is also known as tree spinach, which is a fast-growing leafy perennial shrub originated in Mexico. This plant is now widely cultivated all around the world and it is quite similar to spinach. Its leaves can be both eaten raw, cooked, or added to soups, tea, and salad recipes.
Aside from culinary purposes, this plant contains numerous nutrients, which are beneficial to the body’s overall health. It is also called as “God’s gift” because it has the ability to treat and prevent more than 100 diseases.
Chaya can cure asthma, enhances vision, increases calcium in the body, detoxifies the liver, regulates sugar level, prevent diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases. It can also prevent varicose veins, hemorrhoids, osteoporosis, headaches, anemia, and other serious diseases.
It can also improve the brain function, boost the immune system, digestions, metabolism, reduces blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It can reduce uric acids, reduce the risk of stroke, and cardiovascular diseases. This plant can also relieve inflammation, treats a sore throat, and resolve other health issues.
These are only some of the numerous health benefits of Chaya in treating diseases and several health problems. Here are some steps in preparing a healthy Chaya tea.
- 6 Chaya leaves
- 2 Cups of water
Boil the water in a pot, then add the leaves and let it sit for 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into a glass and place it in the fridge.
Drink the tea 3 times a day before a meal or you can also simply add it to your meal or drinks.
What can you say about Chaya tea? Just feel free to leave your comments and suggestions for this article.
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There is no denying that the list of superfoods is growing and growing. These foods have gained their “super” title for their ability to pack a huge amount of nutrients and health benefits all in a tiny – often delicious – package. From moringa, maca, quinoa, amaranth, spirulina, and beyond, superfoods are becoming a much more regular part of many people’s diets, however, there is still a wealth of these nutritional gems that haven’t been given the recognition they deserve. One of such being the leafy wonder known as Chaya.
Chaya sometimes referred to as tree spinach, and it is yet another powerhouse that we should all be happy to welcome into the fold, especially if that fold happens to be some sort of delicious wrap.
What? People Have Been Eating This for Centuries!
It should not really be all that surprising, considering that all of the aforementioned superfoods were commonly used in ancient civilizations, but for the sake of a gasp, chaya’s amazing nutritional punch has been recognized for centuries, millennia even. The Maya were onto this leafy vegetable long ago, and it once featured regularly in their daily diets.
What are the Benefits of Chaya?
Chaya comes from the Yucatan area of Mexico, and in conversation, people often mistake it for another Mexican treat: chia, an integral part of the Aztec diet. However, like chia, chaya is packed with vital nutrients and dwarves the amounts in other, well-respected veggies.
Here are some of the goods. Chaya has high levels of protein, calcium and iron, nutrients many people are concerned about. The leaves are also chocked with carotene, potassium and vitamin C. Studies have shown the nutritional content of Chaya to be two or three times that of foods like spinach and Chinese cabbage.
But, Wait! There’s More Awesomeness to Behold
For those of us into permaculture and growing our own eats at home, the news gets even better. Unlike spinach and cabbage, Chaya is a large perennial shrub that, un-pruned, can grow up to twelve feet high. Because it’s perennial, we won’t have to plant it repeatedly, dealing with all of the things and costs that go with that. What’s more is that such a large bush, of which we can take up to 50 percent of the leaves, yields a much larger crop.
Chaya has already migrated to Florida and south Texas, where climates remain a bit more sizzling and steamy. It does not like freezing, thus may not work well in many gardens throughout the U.S. However, for those of us growing indoors, it might prove to be quite a nice container plant, moving it in in the winter and out in the summer, with a good edible contribution to make.
How Can You Put Chaya on the Dinner Plate?
Most likely, the biggest challenge to getting chaya onto the dinner plate, barring those who live in Florida and South Texas, will be finding some to use. For those interested in trying chaya, plants are available online, and from there, a replenishing source can be enjoyed.
The last, and very important thing, to be aware of is that Chaya must be prepared with some caution. Like many foods, including spinach, cassava, almonds, there is a toxic substance — a form of hydrogen cyanide — that most be neutralized before consuming the leaves. It sounds scary, but this issue is solved quite simply by boiling, frying or drying the leaves. Cooking gets rid of the compound.
After that, treat the leaves as a replacement for spinach. It’d sub in well in any of these recipes:
- Creamy Pumpkin and (Chaya) Lasagna
- (Chaya) and Artichoke Dip
- Vegan (Chaya) “Chicken” Curry
- Creamy (Chaya) Soup in Fifteen Minutes
- Black-eyed Pea and (Chaya) Cakes with Sundried Tomato Tartar Sauce
Lead image source: Forest and Kim Starr/Flickr
Planting vegetables near trees
Growing vegetables near pine trees
If you’ve got no other options for planting your veggie garden near pine trees, then let’s see if we can help you. Horticultural experts and gardeners have proved it’s a challenge, but there are ways and means…!
Acidity is the mail culprit, this comes from the pine needles that drop. You wont see plants, even grass growing close to pine trees where there are lots of needles. So don’t let them form a big mat that decays away underneath, but gather them up and only use them sparingly in layers in the compost or around acid loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, spuds, lemons and blueberries. Even then, they don’t like it too acicidic. A general rule is to aim for a neutral pH of 7 for most plants, and doing a simple soil test would be a good idea in your situation. You can send soil samples away to be tested or buy a home testing kit from garden or hardward shops.
Adding lime will make the soil more alkaline and is a good long term solution – just follow the instructions on the bag. Wood ash is also good, but do go carefully with all solutions because too much too soon can often harm micro-organisms and limit the ability of plants to take up certain necessary minerals.
If your garden gets enough sun and is beyond the drip line of the branches you should be fine. If the soil is difficult close to the trees, you could use raised gardens and fill with quality soil/compost to get going quickly.
By observation, only you will be able to determine the right choice of plants and amounts of nutrients and water to grow healthy plants by trees, there is no set formula for what to add extra, as all situations are different.
Keep a protective eye on your veggies and a wary eye on the big bullies! If your veggies are slow, leaves yellow, succumb to stress or disease, limp etc, then it’s time for a remedy… trim off a pine branch, give more water or use drip irrigation, add more nutrients, mulch, compost, wind break, furrows for drainage… and so on.
Basically you can get any garden to thrive anywhere depending on the amount of time, energy and money you sow into it… so shall you reap!
|Chaya Quick Facts|
|Scientific Name:||Cnidoscolus aconitifolius|
|Origin||Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico|
|Shapes||Ovoid-globose, hispid capsule|
|Taste||Do not have strong or distinct taste|
|Health benefits||Beneficial for digestion, anemia, cough, cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, memory and hemorrhoids|
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius also known as Chaya, aka ‘Mayan Tree Spinach’ or ‘Mexican Tree Spinach’, is actually a large fast-growing and productive perennial shrub from the Euphorbiaceae (Spurge) family of plants. The plant is native to Central America, and is supposed to have originated on the Yucatan peninsula. Few of the popular common names of the plant are Spinach Tree, Tread Softly, Cabbage Star, Chaya, Chicasquil, Devil nettle and Tree-spinach. Regionally it is known as just “chaya”, which is derived from the Mayan word for the plant which is “chaay”. Ancient Mayan’s used chaya as a dietary staple for centuries because of its amazing nutritional qualities which gave people the strength they needed for their often harsh work and physically demanding lives. The specific epithet, aconitifolius, means “Aconitum-like leaves”. Chaya is eaten as a leafy green vegetable, and is very common in Mexico. It is cooked just like spinach and is excellent in stir-fries! It’s a wonderful source of protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron and also a rich source of antioxidants. It actually has more nutritional benefit then Spinach and is quite literally, a super green! The leaves must be cooked before being eaten, as the raw leaves are toxic.
Traditionally Chaya has been recommended for a number of ailments including diabetes, obesity, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, acne, and eye problems. Chaya shoots and leaves have been taken as a laxative, diuretic, circulation stimulant, to improve digestion, to stimulate lactation, and to harden the fingernail. Like most food plants such as lima beans, cassava, and many leafy vegetables, the leaves contain hydrocyanic glycosides, a toxic compound easily destroyed by cooking. Even though some people tend to eat raw chaya leaves, it is risky to do so.
Chaya is a monoecious, much branched, large, fast-growing leafy perennial shrub that often grow to 3 m (10 ft.) in height, and 2 m (6.5 ft.) in width but some may reach up to five or six meters tall. The plant is found growing in moist and dry thickets in open forest, often in open rocky localities and tolerates most soil conditions, but might dislike acid and grows well in moist, well-drained soil. The plant has short stout trunk which is 6 inches in diameter. Bark is light gray brown with darker streaks, becoming finely fissured. Inner bark is whitish with light green outer layer, almost tasteless, with abundant white latex. Twigs are very stout, green with large whitish dots (lenticels), becoming light gray brown, with large oblong raised leaf scars and often with scattered stinging hairs.
Leaves are dark green, alternate, simple, slick surfaced often with some hairs and palmately lobed (much like the leaves of okra). Each leaf is 6 to 8 inches across and is borne on a long slender petiole (leaf stem). Where the leaf stem connects to the leaf, the leaf veins are fleshy and cuplike. Wood of young stems is soft, easily broken, and susceptible to rot. When cut, the stem exudes white latex
Flower clusters (cymes) are terminal at the end of a long stalk, flat-topped, and 3-5 inches across, bearing many male flowers and few female flowers (monoecious) without petals. Male flowers many but only a few open at one time, about 1/2 inch long and broad, consisting of narrow greenish-tinged calyx tube 1/4 inch long, 5 spreading elliptic lobes 1/4 inch long, and on orange disk the white stamen column with 2 circles of 5 stamens to 3/8 inch long and third circle nonfunctional (staminodes). Female flowers few, terminal, opening first, composed of 5 white sepals more than 1/4 inch long which fall early and on a disk the pistil 1/4 inch long, with finely hairy light green egg-shaped 3-celled ovary with 3 ovules and 3 white widely working styles. Flowers are followed by a ovoid-globose, bristly ellliptic-3-celled hispid capsule 3/8 inch long. Seeds 1 in each cell, that are 6–8 mm long and carunculate.
Branches-of-Chaya-plant Chaya-Cream-Soup Chaya-plant
Chaya-plant-Illustration Chaya-with-Rice Flowering-buds-and-flowers-of-Chaya
Flowers-of-Chaya-plant Leaves-of-Chaya Seedling-of-Chaya-plant
Seed-pods-of-Chaya-plant Sketch-of-Chaya-plant Stinging-hairs-and-petiole-gland-of-chaya
Some of the popular health benefits of chaya are:
- Improved blood circulation
- Aids in digestion
- Improved vision
- Dis-inflammation of veins and hemorrhoids
- Help to lower cholesterol
- Help to reduce weight
- Prevent coughs
- Augmenting calcium in the bones
- Decongestion and disinfecting of the lungs
- Prevent anemia by replacing iron in the blood
- Improve memory and brain function
- Combat arthritis
- Improves glucose metabolism and prevents diabetes.
Traditional uses and benefits of Chaya
- Plant is said to have many medicinal benefits, ranging from the ability to strengthen fingernails and darken greying hair.
- It is also used to cure alcoholism, diabetes, insomnia, skin disorders, venereal diseases, gout, and scorpion stings and to improve brain function and memory.
- Diabetic rabbits, fed increasingly higher quantities of the leaves, showed a significant drop in blood sugar levels.
- Chaya traditionally has been recommended for a number of ailments including obesity, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, acne, and eye problems.
- Chaya shoots and leaves have been taken as a laxative, diuretic, circulation stimulant, to improve digestion, to stimulate lactation, and to harden the fingernails.
- Young chaya leaves and the thick, tender stem tips are cut and boiled as spinach.
- Traditionally leaves are immersed and simmered for 20 minutes and then served with oil or butter.
- Young leaves and shoots, detoxified by cooking, are eaten as a vegetable.
- They can be eaten alone or in combination with other vegetables in stews and soups.
- They are only rarely eaten raw as fresh greens.
- Popular drink in Yucatan (Mexico) is made by blending the raw leaves in sugar water with lemons, pineapple and other fruits.
- Leaves are also good cooked in coconut milk with ground foods like potatoes and yams or breadfruit.
- Chaya can be used in any recipe that calls for cooked spinach, including lasagna and even pizza!
- Young leaves are used to wrap tamales or are eaten with the thick terminal stems cooked as greens.
- Leaves are flavorful when cooked with ham, onion, salt and pepper, or with salt and vinegar.
Sautéed chaya recipe via Los Dos Cooking School
- 2 Tbs. (45 ml) olive oil
- 4 oz. (114g) slab bacon, cut into large dice
- 1 large red onion
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 8 cups (2 liters) chaya leaves, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped (Substitute: spinach, Swiss chard, kale)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil and bacon until bacon is cooked.
- Remove bacon and set aside to drain.
- Reduce heat and add onion, garlic and bell pepper and cook until softened.
- Add chaya and cover.
- Cook 20-25 minutes or until chaya is tender, stirring occasionally.
- Return bacon to skillet and toss to incorporate. Check seasonings and serve.
Chaya with scrambled eggs
- 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
- 2 Tablespoons of white onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup tomato, chopped
- 1/3 cup Chaya, cooked and chopped
- 2 eggs
- Salt to taste
- Wash Chaya leaves and place them in a pot with cold water over medium high heat. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The chaya leaves will keep their bright green color. Remove from pot, drain and chop to cook.
- Heat a medium-sized non-stick frying pan over low heat. Add the oil, once it is hot add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Stir in the chopped tomato and cook for a minute and then add the chopped chaya leaves. Sauté for two more minutes.
- Crack the eggs and add to the pan, stir and season with salt to taste. Cook until desire doneness.
- Serve with beans, fried plantains or sliced avocado and warm corn tortillas.
Cream of chaya soup recipe via Food.com
- 20 leaves, chaya (tender, washed)
- 2 cups milk (whole make it nice and rich)
- 4 leaves basil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 cup vegetable bouillon (chicken OK)
- Salt, to your taste
- Place Chaya leaves, chopped onions and crushed garlic in a pot with the bouillon and cook for two minutes or until leaves are blanched (use mid-heat).
- Add milk and let it cool.
- Use a stick blender mixes to a smooth velvety texture the remaining ingredients.
- Cook another five to ten minutes or until mixture gets really hot but does not boil.
- Serve hot.
- Add the final touch by placing the unsweetened cream in a small bag; cutting the bag’s bottom tip, you can create a lovely design atop your served soup bowls.
- For a zesty taste, sprinkle a bit of crush dried red chili as well.
- Or add a dab of sour cream.
- Plant is grown as a hedge in home gardens.
- Dried or fresh Chaya leaves and branches make good fodder for chickens, and help to increase egg production.
- Uncooked leaves contain cyanogenic glycosides that produce hydrogen cyanide upon tissue damage.
- Long-term contact with the white sap can cause skin irritation.
- Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested.
- Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.
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Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) is a shrub native to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. It is also known as tree spinach. The plant was introduced into the United States from Cuba years ago and now grows wild in Florida and Texas, but the leaves and shoots are seldom used here as a vegetable. In some parts of Mexico, chaya is eaten and also used as a herbal remedy, but I’ve read that many Mexicans are unfamiliar with it.
Chaya is quite nutritious; it does, indeed, provide more protein, calcium, iron, vitamin C, and carotenes than spinach. The leaves have also been used traditionally for treatment of a wide variety of ailments including obesity, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, acne, eye problems, and as laxatives and diuretics and to stimulate circulation, improve digestion and strengthen fingernails. However, none of these traditional uses has been studied scientifically. The only study of which I’m aware showed that chaya tea administered to diabetic rabbits lowered blood glucose levels, but these results were considered preliminary, and I’ve been unable to find any follow-up studies.
Like several other plants and leafy vegetables, chaya leaves contain hydrocyanic glycosides, which are toxic compounds, but they are easily destroyed by cooking. Chaya is traditionally cooked for 20 minutes and served with butter or oil. The reason it shouldn’t be cooked in an aluminum pot is the possibility of a toxic reaction that can result in diarrhea.
I’ve eaten chaya and liked it. If you’re careful about cooking it, there’s no reason not to try it, but I’m not sure how easy it is to get here. It’s said to be simple to grow, so if you’re a gardener, you may want to grow your own.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Native to Mexico, this is a fast-growing, drought-tolerant, perennial shrub, typically reaching 3 m (10 ft) in height. As one of its common names (spinach tree) implies, it is grown for its dark-green leaves, which it produces in abundance.
Chaya’s young leaves and thick succulent stems make a tasty, nutritious, non-slimy vegetable when cooked. Both the domesticated strains, known as Chaya mansa, and the wild forms, Chaya brava, are edible. However, the wild forms characteristically possess stinging epidermal hairs that are highly irritating to the harvester’s skin. The entire plant may be ground, dried and used as animal feed. Chaya leaf meal has been developed as a chick feed in Ghana.
- Propagation : cuttings (domesticated strains will sometimes flower but rarely set seed)
- Soil: grows in a broad range of soil types, but is intolerant of waterlogged soil
- Elevation: 0-1300 m (4265 ft) Chaya will grow in both dry and hot, humid areas. It will die back to the base from occasional frosts in subtropical climates but normally it survives, producing sprouts from the base.
Large, somewhat woody cuttings, 15-60 cm (6-24 in) long are cut and planted upright or on a slant in moist (not water-soaked) soil. Plant the cuttings with the top end up and water the planted cuttings sparingly until they’re well rooted. Chaya growth is rapid during the growing season; Chaya users may have to prune plants back to maintain a manageable size for harvesting.
Harvesting and Seed Production
Do not harvest leaves from young Chaya plants as stunting may result. Established plants, however, withstand repeated harvesting of stem tips and young leaves as often as two to three times per week. The young leaves near the stem tips are the most tender. Wear gloves to harvest leaves of the brava varieties to avoid skin inflammation from the stinging hairs.
Pests and Diseases
Chaya is quite disease- and pest-resistant. Young Chaya plants are susceptible to defoliation by leaf-eating tomato hornworms. Normally, recovery by new leaf production is rapid. Fungal (e.g., rust) or broad mite pests are usually seasonal.
Cooking and Nutrition
Chaya leaves are highly nutritious, being a good source of protein; calcium, phosphorus, and iron; and vitamins A and C as well as niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. The leaves and stem tip materials normally are chopped into pieces before cooking like spinach. Chaya leaf and tip pieces also are added to soups and stews or mixed with onions and eggs to make tortillas.
CAUTIONS: Chaya must never be eaten raw, as it contains cyanogenic glycosides, sources of cyanide poisoning. Cooking Chaya in boiling water for 15 minutes, or frying, rids the stem and leaf materials of the poisonous cyanide components. Stir-fry cooking probably is not adequate to eliminate the cyanides. Avoid breathing in the vapors produced during cooking Chaya. Chaya leaves appear similar to those of Jatropha curcas; parts of jatropha (seeds and press cake in particular) should not be eaten as they are very TOXIC.
Plants for a Future
Chaya, the Maya miracle plant
Sophie Annan Jensen
© Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, 2009
Updated in October, 2009
“Here is a contribution of the unforgettable Maya Indians, whom we have abandoned,” is the wistful introduction to a pamphlet on the chaya plant, from Desarollo Integral de la Familia (DIF), which goes on to call chaya “an ideal food and medicine.”
According to the National Institute of Nutrition in Mexico City, ingesting chaya will:
- Improve blood circulation,
- help digestion,
- improve vision,
- disinflame veins and hemorrhoids,
- help lower cholesterol,
- help reduce weight,
- prevent coughs,
- augment calcium in the bones,
- decongest and disinfect the lungs,
- prevent anemia by replacing iron in the blood,
- improve memory and brain function and
- combat arthritis and diabetes.
A nutritional analysis (see chart) shows that chaya is richer in iron than spinach, and a powerful source of potassium and calcium.
It’s also incredibly easy to grow and an attractive addition to the garden with its maple-like leaves and tidy growth pattern. It limits itself to about six feet in height. Plant a row close together and you’ll soon have a hedge. The plants tend to be open toward the bottom, so you can create a border with low- and medium-growing herbs.
Despite the near-miraculous claims for it, I’ve run into very few Mexicans who are familiar with chaya, and have never seen it in the market. To grow your own, stake branches of about 40 centimeters in sandy soil with good drainage, and water regularly. It grows well in a median annual temperature of 25 C. or higher, and at altitudes of 0 to 1000 meters above sea level.
In some states it is called chaya col or chaya mansa. The botanical name is Cnidoscolus chayamansa.
Start harvesting as soon as you see a couple of new leaves sprouted. Cutting encourages new growth, and the branches are pretty in flower arrangements. There’s so much of it around our place that we’re rather profligate with it, and it always rewards us with rapid new growth. Except for an occasional raid by cutter ants, we’ve found it pest-free.
The leaves are pretty bland, so you can add them to soups, casseroles, spaghetti sauces, salsas and salads without affecting the taste. The tiny, tender ones can go in omelets or salads or be used as garnish. The larger ones are best chopped and cooked long and slow. I’ve tried cooking them quickly, like spinach, and have not been happy with the leathery results.
For a liter of tea, use 3-5 medium size leaves with whatever blend you favor. I like two bags of black tea with two bags of mint and the chaya leaves, “cooked” in a glass bottle in the sun for a couple of hours and then refrigerated. Soak the leaves in water with a disinfectant such as Microdyn, before using, as you do fruits and vegetables.
Warning: In cooking or serving, Do not use aluminum containers, as a toxic reaction can result, causing diarrhea.
Use pottery or glass.
Here’s a nutritional comparison, supplied by the Mexican National Institute of Nutrition, and distributed by DIF.
Percentages are based on minimum daily requirements.
Since the article on chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) was published, we’ve had numerous requests from the United States on where to buy plants or seed, or how to have it sent from Mexico. We can’t send from Mexico — plants and seeds are restricted items. Here’s what we’ve found out.
Reader Mary Matthews, informs us that chaya cuttings are available on a limited basis from ECHO in North Fort Myers, Florida, from Neem Tree Farms in Brandon, Florida, and also from Steve Janosko in Connecticutt.
Although it’s common practice in Mexico to use the leaves raw in agua fresca, a tea-like cold drink, chaya does contain cyanogenic glycosides, which are a source of cyanide poisoning, so it should not be eaten raw. Boiling leaves for at least 5 minutes releases the cyanide and makes the leaves safe to eat. We caution you to be sure you’re getting Cnidoscolus chayamansa — there may well be other varieties.
Those who live in areas with Spanish-speaking populations might try grocery stores or nurseries in Latino neighborhoods. If you don’t speak Spanish, what you say is: ”¿Sabe Usted en dónde puedo comprar semillas o plantitas de chaya?” (Do you know where I can buy seeds or small plants of chaya?) If you get a positive answer, ask them to write it down. (”Por favor, escríbelo.”)
Published or Updated on: January 1, 1996 by Sophie Annan Jensen © 1996
Contact Sophie Annan Jensen
Maya Spinach Tree, Chaya Col, Kikilchay, Chaykeken
Origin: Yucatan peninsula, Belize, Central America, Southern America
The plant is originally found on the Yucatan peninsula, but can now be found in the Southern, Central and Northern America, where the leaves are eaten. Chaya is a little known leafy green vegetable of dry regions of the tropics. The name comes from the Mayan chay. The genus Cnidoscolus consists of 40 or more species, but only chayamansa refers to the vegetable chaya. Chaya was introduced into Cuba, and from there into Florida. In South Florida it is often found as a rank shrub, but seldom is appreciated for its food value as a vegetable. Chaya is a large, leafy shrub reaching a height of about 6-8 feet. Each leaf is 6-8 inches across and is borne on a long slender petiole (leaf stem). Where the leaf stem connects to the leaf, the leaf veins are fleshy and cuplike. Chaya blooms frequently and both male and female flowers are borne together at the end of long flower stems. The wood of young stems is soft, easily broken, and susceptible to rot. When cut, the stem exudes a white latex. The use of gloves during harvesting is suggested to protect the hands from spines. Younger leaves and a bit of the stems are cut and used much like spinach. Large leaves are cut into manageable pieces before cooking. Leaves are immersed and simmered for 20 minutes and then served with oil or butter. Chaya is a good source of protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron. However, raw chaya leaves are highly poisonous. They contain a high content of hydrocyanic acid. In this respect chaya is similar to cassava. With chaya, 1 minute of boiling destroys most of the acid. The plant prefers a well drained soil with some to much water and lots of sun. The tiny flowers are white, and the plant can be reproduced both by seeds and cuttings.
- Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (Spinach Tree, Tread Softly, Cabbage Star, Chaya)
- Cnidoscolus sp. (Cnidoscolus)
- Cnidoscolus tehuacanensis (Mala Mujer)
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (Mill.) I.M. Johnst. and C. chayamansa McVaugh 1,5
kah-knee-doe-SKOHL-us a-kon-eye-tih-FOH-lee-us 10
C. chayamansa McVaugh: English: tree-spinach; Spanish: chaya, chayamansa;
Swedish: chaya; Unknown: chaya col, chaykeken, kikilchay
C. aconitifolius (Mill.) I.M. Johnst.: English: cabbage-star, tree-spinach, tread softly; French: manioc bâtard; Spanish: chaya, copapayo 1,3,11
C. aconitifolius subsp. aconitifolius; C. chaya Lundell; C. chayamansa McVaugh; C. fragrans (Kunth) Pohl; C. longipedunculatus (Brandegee) Pax & K.Hoffm.; C. napifolius (Desr.) Pohl; C. palmatus (Willd.) Pohl; C. quinquelobatus (Mill.) León; Jatropha aconitifolia Mill.; J. aconitifolia var. multipartita Müll.Arg.; J. aconitifolia var. palmata (Willd.) Müll.Arg.; J. aconitifolia var. papaya (Medik.) Pax; J. deutziiflora Croizat; J. fragrans Kunth; J. longipedunculata Brandegee; J. napifolia Desr.; J. palmata Willd.; J. palmata Sessé & Moc. ex Cerv.; J. papaya Medik.; J. quinqueloba Sessé; J. quinquelobata Mill.; J. urens var. inermis Calvino; J. urens var. longipedunculata Brandegee 4
Cassava, Manihot spp. and Jatropha spp.
Mexico (Yucatán), Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua 1
USDA hardiness zones
Tropical wet or dry 2
Food; living fence; medicinal; ornamental; compost; mulch
6.5-20 ft (2-6 m) 3
Large leafy shrub
Multi-stemmed when pruned
Keep to 5-8 ft (1.5-2.5 m) for ease of harvesting
Evergreen, dark green, alternate, simple; palmately lobed; 6-8 in. (14-20 cm) across; borne on a long slender petiole 5
Small, white; male and female flowers are borne at the end of long flower stems 5
Full sun, tolerates shade
Short day (<12 hrs) 2
Tolerant of a wide range of well drained soils
Some drought tolerated
Soil salt tolerance
Not salt tolerant 3
Soil depth for planting
Medium 20-60 in. (50-150 cm); shallow 8-20 in. (20-50 cm)
Tropical; tolerant to 54°F (12 °C) 2
10 ft (3 m); living fence: 3 ft (1m); commercial production: 3-6.5 ft (1-2 m) 9
Chaya is quite insect and disease resistant
The raw chaya plant contains cyanogenic glycosides, sources of cyanide poisoning; always cook it; vertebrate poisons: mammals, birds 2
The sticky sap may cause skin irritation to some people.
Chaya—Cnidoscolus chayamansa McVaugh, University of Florida pdf
Plant of the month: Chaya. Mayan Tree-Spinach by Arthur Lee Jacobson
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius: Tree Pot Herb, Eat the Weeds
Some Cnidoscolus species have been classified as Jatropha but are now considered Cnidoscolus. C. chayamansa McVaugh, has also been called C. aconitifolius (Mill.) I.M. Johnst.
Sorting Cnidoscolus Names from the Multilingual Multiscript Plant Name Database, University of Melbourne, Australia ext. link
Originally, most likely, from Northern America: Mexico, and Central America: Belize; El Salvador; Guatemala; Honduras; Nicaragua. Cultivars have been distributed to Cuba, Florida, other parts of Mexico, and the Southwest United States.
From their document, Echo has been distributing their non-stinging cultivar to a number of countries, Africa and parts of Asia, Kenya, Philippines, Hawaii, Zambia, Bolivia, Tanzania, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Indonesia, and has received information on chaya’s trials, growth, and successes and failures. 6
Chaya, an important perennial vegetable, is a vigorous and attractive large leafy shrub, particularly tolerant of poor growing conditions.
Dark green, alternate, simple, slick surfaced often with some hairs, and palmately lobed (much like the leaves of okra). Each leaf is 6 to 8 inches across and is borne on a long slender petiole (leaf stem). Where the leaf stem connects to the leaf, the leaf veins are fleshy and cuplike. The wood of young stems is soft, easily broken, and susceptible to rot. When cut, the stem exudes a white latex (Fig. 17,18). 5
|Fig. 3||Fig. 4||Fig. 5|
|Fig. 6||Fig. 7||Fig. 8|
Fig. 3. C. chayamansa. Chaya leaf. The type found in Florida has five lobes. 5
Fig. 4. Chaya leaf
Fig. 5. Chaya leaf, underneath
Fig. 6. Mature chaya leaf
Fig. 7. Immature chaya leaf
Fig. 8. New growth
Chaya blooms frequently, and both male and female flowers are borne together at the end of long flower stems. Both kinds of flowers are small, less than 10 mm long. The male flowers are much more abundant. In the fall trials at Gainesville, FL, seed pods about 1-inch wide and the size of walnuts were produced. 5
|Fig. 12||Fig. 13||Fig. 14|
Fig. 12. C. aconitifolius (Spinach tree, chaya). Flowers and leaves. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii
Fig. 13. C. aconitifolius (Spinach tree, chaya). Flowers and leaves. Waianapanapa, Maui, Hawaii
Fig. 14. Flowers, Venice, Florida
Seed pods are about 1-inch wide, and the size of walnuts in the fall trials at Gainesville, FL. 5
Wild chaya is not as popular because of its stinging hairs. Cultivated varieties differ in the degree of lobing of the leaves, the size of the leaf, and quantity of the stinging hairs.
‘Estrella’ without stinging hairs, faster growing with deeply lobed leaves 7
‘Hog’ is a large leaf cultivar, no stinging hairs and is said to be similar to those served in Mexican restaurants. 7
‘Pig’ chaya, sometimes known as keken-chay, is one of the very best eating varieties. It has small leaves, with three shallow lobes and almost no spines.
Once established leaves and pieces of tender and succulent stem can be harvested for cooking. The sap may cause skin irritation to some people.
The first harvest may take place after 90 – 120 days 2
Sixty percent or more of the leaves may be removed at harvest, with enough left for healthy new growth. Since most gardeners need only a few leaves at a time, one plant harvested on a continuous basis is adequate. 5
|Fig. 17||Fig. 18|
Fig. 17,18. Sticky, white milky sap
Year round. 2
Chaya is propagated by stem cuttings. To prepare cuttings take a 6-12 inch (15-30 cm) length section of a woody stem containing 2-3 nodes. Cuttings can be taken from either the top or the bottom portion of a stem, but it must be woody. Cuttings from the top portion of the stems have less problems with rotting during the rooting process. The soft, green growing tips should be avoided.
Remove all leaves and air dry the cuttings in the shade for 3-4 days before planting. This will allow the cut ends to seal, making them less susceptible to rotting.
Cuttings can be planted directly in the ground, or in nursery containers and transplanted to the field. Cuttings planted directly in the ground are more susceptible to rotting.
Cuttings should be planted with 1-2 nodes beneath the soil and kept moist. It is important not to over water the cuttings, because this will increase rotting.
Cuttings are ready for transplanting when mature leaves are produced. Edible greenery is produced within 3-5 months. 8
For detailed information please refer to Echo Technical Notes, Chaya. 6
|Fig. 19||Fig. 20|
|Fig. 21||Fig. 22||Fig. 23|
Fig. 19. Woody cuttings 6-12 in. (15-30 cm) long, allow to air dry for 3 to 4 days in the shade
Fig. 20. Plant 1 to 2 nodes beneath the soil, be careful to plant the correct way up
Fig. 21. Dormant axillary bud is above the leaf scar
Fig. 22. Side view, it may be possible to feel the raised axillary bud
Fig. 23. Axillary bud beginning to grow
Planting distance should be at least 10 ft (3 m). It is cold sensitive and should be planted at the beginning of a warm season. The optimal growing temperature is 68-90 °F (20-32 °C), and the absolute temperature range is 54-100 °F (12-38 °C). 2
To create a living fence, plant rooted cutting every 3 ft (1m).
For commercial production, rows of chaya should be planted 3-6.5 ft (1-2 m) apart, with 3 ft (1m) between plants in a row. 9
Irrigate during dry periods.
It is a good idea to prune periodically to promote new growth. Try pruning styles such as pollarding or coppicing to produce a good quantity of young growth for harvesting.
Pollard is a European traditional term for cutting off the upper branches of a tree to encourage new growth at the top, thus promoting a dense head of branches and foliage.
Copice is also a European traditional term for woodland management, where particular trees make new growth from the stump or the roots if cut down. Young tree stems are periodically or regularly cut down to ground level.
|Fig. 24||Fig. 25||Fig. 26|
|Fig. 27||Fig. 28|
Fig. 24,25. Last season’s growth from the pollarded area, Sarasota, Florida
Fig. 26. Close-up of growth from the pollarded area, Sarasota, Florida
Fig. 27. Natural rounded form of chaya shrub, Venice, Florida
Fig. 28. Growth habit: trunk/branches, Venice, Florida
Fertilizing and Irrigation
Regular fertilizer application and irrigation will increase the quantity and quality of leaves.
Tomato hornworms can rapidly defoliate a young plant, however it will rejuvenate new leaves.
Fungal (e.g., rust) or broad mite pests are usually seasonal. 6
Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca sexta (Linnaeus), and Tomato Hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata (Haworth), (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) from the University of Florida pdf
Chaya is a host of CCMV (Cassava Common Mosaic Virus) although plant materials are available from none-infected sources.
Though the diversity of uses of chaya as a food is unknown in pre-Hispanic times, modern usage of chaya is rather diverse. Although the larger mature leaves are preferred for use as wraps, generally the young, tender leaves and apical shoots are eaten. Often chaya leaves are eaten after boiling them in water with salt, with or without the apical shoots and sometimes with petioles. Likewise, chaya greens are frequently combined with other vegetables and/or meat in soups and stews. Boiled chaya greens, covered with ground roasted pepita seeds (Cucurbita sp.), cooked tomato and chile (Capsicum sp.) are eaten as a sort of burrito in a corn tortilla. 13
The most famous chaya dish is probably Dzotobilchay, consisting of diced chaya leaves mixed with nixtamalized corn dough, covered with sauce or vegetables and diced eggs, then wrapped in banana leaves or other chaya leaves, and cooked to make a tamale. Other popular Yucatec dishes include Pibxcatic, or stuffed chiles served over chaya leaves (de Caraza Campos and Luna Parra 1994), and Brazos de la Reina, made by rolling chaya leaves in corn dough, which is then steamed and served with tomato and squash seeds. 13
Some people fry previously boiled chaya leaves and mix them with eggs, onions, and tomatoes, or cook the leaves on a hot clay pan (comal) and add them to salads. Most people consume cooked chaya leaves, and the leaves are only rarely eaten raw as fresh greens. A popular drink in the Yucatán peninsula is made by blending raw chaya leaves in sugar water with lemons, pineapple, and other fruits and sold to tourists as chayagra, along with claims of heightened virility. 13
Chaya, compared with spinach (Spinacia oleracea), retains it’s texture somewhat and it’s volume, so much less is required for a recipe.
Like spinach it can be canned or frozen. 2
|Fig. 33||Fig. 34||Fig. 35|
|Fig. 36||Fig. 37|
Fig. 33. Chaya boiled without the lid for 10 to 20 minutes
Fig. 34. Chaya cooked, drained, excess water squeezed out
Fig. 35. Chopped chaya
Fig. 36. Chaya divided into portions for freezing
Fig. 37. Cooking chaya soup, see Fig. 32
Chaya leaves contain toxic hydrocyanic glycosides (HCN). Always cook chaya and avoid breathing the vapors as the HCN boils off as a gas.
The stinging hairs (if present) and toxicity are destroyed when cooked and so the cooking liquid is fine to drink.
As with spinach always use non-reactive cookware (non-aluminum).
The leaves are very high in protein, calcium, iron, carotene and vitamins A, B and C. 6
The amino acids in chaya are well balanced, which is even more important for those in impoverished parts of the world, who have a diet low in protein.
The nutritional value of chaya leaves is highly regarded in Yucatán-primarily for its protein-and is sometimes seen as a suitable replacement for meat. Several informants explained that in the past, when meat was scarce or expensive, chaya was much more popular. But as the price of meat has dropped in modem times, chaya has decreased in popularity. Adding to this, chaya suffers from being seen by many of the younger generations as a food of the poor, a stigma which by no means augments its popularity. We also received reports of people eating wild chaya leaves-boiled to remove the spines and toxins-in times of extreme scarcity. The use of wild chaya as a famine food is confirmed by in the 16th century Maya text of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (Roys 1967) and in 16th century Spanish chronicles (Marcus 1982). 13
Serving Size: 1/2 cup (1OOg) fresh leaves
|% Daily Value
USDA, 2000 Calorie Diet
|Protein||7.4 g||14.8 %|
|Calcium||330 mg||33 %|
|Iron||9.3 mg||51.7 %|
|Vitamin A||1357 IU||27 %|
|Vitamin C||205 mg||342 %|
Source: Bittenbender, UH-Horticulture Department.
Comparisons of nutritional compositions of leaves of chaya (C. chayamansa McVaughn) and spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) per 100 g fresh weight.
Source: Kuti J.O. 1996, Ecoport.org 3
Chaya – High Nutrition Perennial from www.usaid.gov pdf
Blood system applications, digestive system applications, sensory applications, immune system applications, respiratory applications, muscular/skeletal applications. 2
Usually cooked leaves are eaten. Teas or infusions are made from the leaves. 6
A very good mulch for vegetable gardens where it provides high minerals and nitrogen.
Chaya makes an excellent fast growing edible, living fence. The flowers attract pollinators.
Because of it’s ability to grow well in poor growth conditions (either arid or rainy, and sunny or shady), high nutritional value, and good disease and pest resistance chaya is recommended and promoted by a number of organizations such as www.leafforlife.org, www.MiraclesInAction.org, www.pfaf.org, www.urbanharvest.org, www.usaid.gov.
Chaya, Spinach tree, Chay, Kikilchayo from the University of Hawai’i pdf
Chaya from Perennial Greens of the FGCU Food Forest ext. link
List of Growers and Vendors