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Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) is nicknamed tree spinach but that’s kind of like calling iceberg lettuce spinach. Chaya contains more than twice as much protein, calcium, Vitamin C, iron, fiber and caronteniods as spinach, according to a USDA report published through Purdue University.
It’s also much easier to grow. It’s a dietary staple on the semi-arid Yucatan Peninsula but also thrives in Florida’s hot, rainy summers. We grow both hog chaya, which has larger leaves, and the more decorative species with smaller, deeply serrated leaves and pretty white flowers that attract butterflies. Please let us know if you have a choice, otherwise we’ll ship the species we have most of at the time.
Like many tropical plants (including spinach to a lesser degree), chaya contains hydrocyanic glucosides in its leaves. Cooking the leaves inactivates the toxic compound.
In colder climates they grow well in a sunny window, although you’ll want to put it outside once temperatures are consistently above freezing. They’ve come back from the ground with temperatures as low as the mid-20s but they’re among the first plants to lose their leaves when it gets near 30 degrees.
Since chaya is the only plant we grow that isn’t an important part of the Ayurvedic medical tradition, here’s a link to a report from the National Institute of Nutrition in Mexico City, including a breakdown on the compounds in chaya. (Of course, the medical statements they make are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and Neem Tree Farms does not sell products which are intended to treat, diagnose or prevent diseases.)
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