Chaya or Tree Spinach (Cnidoscolus chayamansa L.)

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The spinach tree is actually about twice as nutritious as spinach. It is a good source of nutrients including protein, calcium, iron, potassium, and vitamin C. It is a fast-growing dense shrub, native to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. It grows to about 6-8 feet tall.

Chaysa leaves
Chaysa leaves

Origin

The Chaya is a perennial leafy vegetable, native to the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. It was an important food source for the Maya civilization and is still widely consumed in Mexico and other parts of Central America. The Chaya can be found growing wild in many tropical regions and is also cultivated commercially.

Consumption

The Chaya leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals, making them a nutritious addition to the diet. The leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach, or used as an ingredient in soups and stews. Chaya is also used as a medicinal herb and is believed to have various health benefits.

Cultivation

Chaya can be propagated from cuttings or seeds. It is a fast-growing plant and can reach heights of up to 3 m (10 ft). Chaya prefers well-drained soil and full sun, but it can also tolerate partial shade.

Harvesting

The Chaya leaves can be harvested after the plant has been growing for about 6 months. Chaya leaves are best when they are young and tender. Older leaves can be tough and bitter.

Pests and Diseases

Chaya is susceptible to various pests and diseases, including root-knot nematodes, caterpillars, and fungal diseases.

Nutritional value 

Chaya leaves are a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as iron and calcium.

Health benefits

Chaya is believed to have various health benefits, including:

– Boosting the immune system

– Improving digestion

– Lowering cholesterol levels

– Regulating blood sugar levels

– Reducing inflammation

Soil

Tolerates most soil conditions, but might dislike acid. Liming and fertilizing should benefit Chaya. The leaves contain a lot of protein, calcium, and potassium, so the soil must have it for the plant to extract if it is to be healthy. (Nitrogen to make protein)
Water: well to somewhat well-drained. Tolerates brief flooding and droughts

Sun

Full is best, tolerates shade.

Cold

Can be killed by a hard freeze, but will usually resprout from the roots. Mulch the base to protect it. Pruning: Unnecessary, but sometimes used to control height. Crowded internal branches can be removed for propagation or aesthetics.

Propagation

Easily propagated by stem cuttings.

Pests

None.

Other problems

It can be slow to get going.

Harvesting, storage, and preparation

Most recommendations say not to harvest until the second year because the plants are slow to establish before they can grow quickly. Our plants seem to take very quickly to our special potting mix. Never harvest more than 50% of the leaves, except stems cut for propagation. Leaves must be cooked to release cyanide, which evaporates. Apparently, aluminum cookware can cause a diarrhea-causing reaction with the cyanide compounds when cooking. We are not sure if this is true. On principle, it’s wise to cook all fruits and vegetables in non-aluminum pans because of their high acidity.

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