Chaya, Mexican Tree Spinach (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius)
Live Chaya Plant
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Cnidoscolus aconitifolius also known as Chaya, aka 'Mayan Tree Spinach' or 'Mexican Tree Spinach', is a large fast-growing and productive perennial shrub from the Spurge family of plants.
The plant is native to Central America, and is believed to have originated on the Yucatan peninsula. The stems of the plant are woody and succulent-like, and expel a milky white sap when cut. The plant can grow to a height of 15 feet if growth conditions allow.
In Mexico, Chaya is eaten as a leafy green vegetable, and is very common. Chaya is cooked just like spinach and is excellent in stir-fries! It's a great source of protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron and also a rich source of antioxidants. Chaya actually has more nutritional benefit then Spinach. Chaya is quite literally, a super green!
There is one thing to note about Chaya- the leaves under any circumstance should not be eaten raw. The plant contains a poison similar to cyanide (the stuff in Apple seeds) that is lethal and can sicken individuals when consumed. The poison is neutralized by boiling the leaves for 5-15 minutes, straining the water, and cooking in a new pot of water. This process is called blanching and is required prior to consumption.
While Chaya is well known for it's tasty culinary uses, it also has several important traditional medicinal uses. Probably the most researched medicinal effect of Chaya is it's ability to help treat and fight diabetes.