Chaya - Spinach Tree (English), Chay (Maya)Chaya (Spanish), Cnidoscolus chayamansa. Native to Yucatan, chaya are highly nutritious shrubs with valuable concentrations of minerals, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. Organically grown Chaya shrubs have large leafs. It is an evergreen that loves sunny areas. Chaya blooms frequently with both male and female flowers bloom together. Young leaves are used by Maya people much like spinach in traditional Mayan Cuis
It is also known as tree spinach. Make sure to cook it, as it contains hydrocyanic glycosides (whatever they are) and the obvious milky white sap that can be an itchy irritant if it touches your skin, so be careful when harvesting. Chaya is rich in protein, calcium, iron, carotene, riboflavin, niacin, and ascorbic acid. It is drought tolerant and grows well in hot, rainy, dry, well drained and partially shaded areas. chaya reproduces well by stick cuttings and can be coppiced and regrows well after cutting. It has no pest problems.
Chaya or spinach tree or Tree Spinach (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) 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.
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)
Good for Reforestation
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.
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. Never harvest more than 50% of the leaves, except from 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.
On principle it's wise to cook all fruits and vegetables in non-aluminum pans because of their high acidity.
Drying the leaves also reduces the hydrogen cyanide significantly. Blending will do the same IF the blended leaves are allowed to sit for several hours. The amount of hydrogen cyanide differs from variety to variety and may account for reports of some variety leaves being eaten raw. Researchers say they have found no reports of acute or chronic effects attributed to the consumption of fresh or cooked Chaya leaves.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Chopped leaves, stem tips and shoots boiled or fried. Cooking for 20 minutes destroys hydrogen cyanide in the tissue. Cooking broth is drinkable. Leaves can be blended and consumed after letting them sit for several hours. Large leaves can be used to wrap food for cooking. The entire plant can be dried, ground, and used as fodder for animals or meal for fish.
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.
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.
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
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 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)
Most folks lightly boil the Chaya and drink the resulting “tea”.
Incorporate Chaya Into Your DietHere 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.
Chaya and Corn Tortillas RecipeIngredients: 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.
The nutritional analysis of chaya (C. chayamansa) leaves and spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) are presented for comparison.