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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 easy to grow almost anywhere in the U.S.
It’s a dietary staple on the semi-arid Yucatan Peninsula but also thrives in Florida’s hot, rainy summers, and is perfectly happy living in a pot that spends summers outdoors and winters in sunny windows in other climates.
We grow two types of chaya — the estrella chaya is clearly a more attractive species with deeply lobed leaves shaped like elm trees and tiny white flowers that attract butterflies. The estrella is our favorite because it grows so much faster. These leaves are thicker than the hog chaya so they provide more biomass in a smoothie. (Chaya also comes in a naturalized variety with horrible stinging hairs, but we don’t grow that one!)
Like many tropical plants — including spinach to a lesser degree — chaya contains cyanogenic glycosides in its leaves. Cooking the leaves inactivates the toxic compound and most experts say you can eat up to five leaves per day without any problems.
Although they freeze to the ground quickly, they’re also among the first plants to come back in the spring.
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,
OVERSEAS CUSTOMERS: Please contact us before placing an order. We can ship to Canada and the E.U. but customers must pay for a $60.00 phytosanitary inspection before trees or living plants can be shipped.