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By: Andrea Guzmán Abril, Dietitian of Project CAN (Culinary, Agriculture, Nutrition)
Published: 2022-01-12

EDN154 Figure 8

Figure 8. Chipilín leaves. Source: Andrea Guzmán Abril


Chipilín (Crotalaria longirostrata; Figure 8) is native to southern Mexico and Central America. This species of Crotalaria is a popular food plant in countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador (Morton, 1994). It is probably the species of the genus Crotalaria most used as food. The young leaves and shoots are consumed, either alone or mixed with other foods. It grows in humid soils, open slopes, and is commonly planted in fields and gardens. 3

3 Editor: Chipilín is grown from seeds sown in moist soil; soaking them for 12 hours in warm water, prior to planting, improves germination (Tropical Plants Database, 2022). Remove unwanted seedlings, as the plant has been known to escape cultivation.  Chipilín plants reach a height of 1.5 m and, where there is no frost, can be productive for about six years (Leaf for Life, 2022).

Additionally, as a legume, chipilín has a positive impact on soil fertility (Camarillo-Castillo and Mangan, 2020). Legumes, in conjunction with soil bacteria, convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into ‘fixed’ nitrogen that plants can uptake. 

EDN154 Figure 9

Figure 9. Tortillas made with chipilín. Source: Andrea Guzmán Abril


Chipilín leaves are highly nutritious (Table 3). They are an excellent source of calcium, iron, and vitamin A. Chipilín leaves are also rich in protein that is high in lysine (Bressani, 1983). Lysine is an amino acid that is essential to human health and deficient in corn protein. This makes chipilín a good protein supplement, increasing the nutritional quality of corn or other starch flour that the leaves are often prepared with (Figure 9). 

Table 3. Nutritional composition of chipilín (Crotalaria longirostrata). Values are based on 100 grams of edible portion.
Protein (g) 7.0
Fat (g) 0.8
Carbohydrate (g) 9
Fiber (g) 2.0
Ashes (g) 1.5
Calcium (g) 287
Phosphorus (g) 72
Iron (g) 4.7
VItamin A (mcg) 3,065
Vitamin B1 (mg) 0.33
Bitamin B2 (mg) 0.49
Nacin (mg) 2.0
Vitamin C (mg) 100
Moisture (%) 82
Energy (cal) 56
From Leung and Flores (1961)


EDN154 Figure 10

Figure 10. Tamales with chipilín. Source: Andrea Guzmán Abril

The leaves have a very pleasant smell and taste. They give food a lot of flavor. Cook the leaves until they are soft. 4     Many preparations can be made. For example, the leaves can be prepared in stews or added to beans, eggs, or rice and beans. They are also consumed by mixing chipilín leaves with corn flour to create various preparations such as chipilín tamales (Figure 10). Children six months and older can consume the leaves, which are a dietary source of protein and vitamin A. 

4 Editor: Other crotalaria species are known to have toxic alkaloids, and raw chipilín leaves are said to cause vomiting (Morton, 1994). For these reasons, Crotalaria longirostrata leaves should be cooked; the seeds and roots are poisonous and should not be eaten.


Active development workers who are members of ECHOcommunity.org may request a trial packet of seed. (See the website for how to register as a member and how to order seeds.)


Bressani, R. 1983. World needs for improved nutrition and the role of vegetables and legumes. Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center, 10th Anniversary Monograph Series (83-185).

Camarillo-Castillo, F. and F.X. Mangan. 2020. Biological nitrogen fixation in chipilin (Crotalaria longirostrata Hook. & Arn.), a sustainable nitrogen source for commercial production. Revista Chapingo Serie Horticultura 26(2):125-141.

Leaf for Life. Crotalaria longirostrata. Accessed 2022-01-04. https://www.leafforlife.org/gen/crotolaria.html

Leung, W.T.W. and M. Flores. 1961. Food composition table for use in Latin America. US Government Printing Office.

Morton, J.F. 1994. Pito (Erythrina berteroana) and chipilin (Crotalaria longirostrata), (Fabaceae), two soporific vegetables of Central America. Economic Botany 48:130-138.

Tropical Plants Database, Ken Fern. tropical.theferns.info. Accessed 2022-01-04. tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Crotalaria+longirostrata

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