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Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius)1, sometimes called the spinach tree, is a fast-growing perennial shrub native to Mexico that produces lots of attractive, large, dark green leaves. It can grow well on a wide range of soils in both hot, rainy climates and areas with occasional drought. It grows easily and quickly, especially at higher temperatures, and new leaves grow quickly after harvesting. The amount of leaves per square foot of garden space is impressive (see photos). Leaves have lower moisture content than most other green leafy plants like spinach or lettuce. Young leaves and the thick, tender stem tips are cut and boiled as“spinach”. Leaves do not have a strong or distinct taste, but tend to take on flavors from whatever seasonings are added.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference from many kinds of cooked leaves is that chaya leaves have a “dense” feel to them. Chaya is exceptionally high in protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin A. It lacks pest problems and is unlikely to become weedy, because it very rarely sets seed and is generally propagated only by cuttings. (ECHO has grown chaya for over 30 years and only one plant produced a few seeds one year. They germinated readily and showed high variability in traits. Though the parent was a special variety from Belize that did not have stinging hairs, most of the seedlings had what appeared to be large and even branched stinging hairs. Our best variety today came from one of those seedlings and is completely free of stinging hairs.)


  1. 2006-01-01 Dr. Martin Price, co-founder of ECHO and former head of ECHO’s Agricultural Resources Department, has said, “I would consider chaya to be one of the five most important underutilized food plants ECHO distributes. I give it this rank because of its ability to thrive in both arid and rainy regions,...
  2. Native to Mexico, this is a fast-growing, drought-tolerant, perennial shrub, typically reaching 3 m (10 ft) in height. As one of its common names (spinach tree) implies, it is grown for its dark-green leaves, which it produces in abundance.
  3. Rating: 3.0 - 1 Vote
    2003-01-20 Chaya is considered to be one of the five most important food plants ECHO distributes.It achieves this rank because of its ability to thrive in both arid and rainy regions, its little need for care or extra fertility, its lack of insect or disease pests, and its exceptional nutritional value.”
  4. La chaya tiene una alta cantidad de los siguientes nutrientes. Se explica abajo los beneficios: Proteína: Una porción de chaya tiene la misma cantidad de proteína que un huevo. La proteína es importante para el desarrollo de los músculos. Hierro: Una porción de chaya tiene dos veces más hierro...
  5. Rating: 3.0 - 1 Vote
    2003-07-20 In response to the articles on leaf protein concentrate and on chaya in EDN Issue 78, a reader asked whether or not leaf protein concentrate (LPC) could safely be made from chaya.
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    2017-02-28 K[]is a rural municipality located in the west of Burkina Faso. Ten years ago, an American missionary introduced Chaya which became a well-known and well-consumed leafy vegetable for the peasants of K[]. The peasants have made Chaya leaves a component of their diet which they consume in several...
  7. Rating: 5.0 - 1 Vote
    Some tropical crops contain cyanogenic glycosides, toxic substances that release hydrocyanic acid (HCN; also referred to as cyanide) when cells are crushed. Consuming these plants without cooking them can cause cyanide poisoning, with varying effects depending on cyanide levels and how long a...
  8. 2012-01-20 The chaya plant is native to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, and to parts of Guatemala. It is similar to spinach and other greens, but grows on a bush that can get to 3 meters (10 ft.) tall and 2 meters (6.5 ft.) wide. The leaves are about the size of an adult hand. Chaya leaves are one of the...
  9. Rating: 4.0 - 1 Vote
    2003-01-20 Chaya is sometimes dubbed "the spinach tree." It is a fast growing drought and disease-resistant shrub that provides large quantities of edible, very nutritious leaves.
  10. Rating: 5.0 - 1 Vote
    2014-01-01 Recently we read correspondence from Penny Rambacher, R.D., a registered dietician working with Miracles in Action in Guatemala. About eight years ago, ECHO’s then-CEO, Dr. Martin Price, suggested to Penny that re-introducing Chaya could be an important way to address malnutrition within the...
  11. 2017-11-01 In 1998, ECHO USA mailed six chaya stalks to Indonesia. Today, a conservatively estimated 10,000 households across Indonesia are benefiting from this ‘Mayan Superfood.” Come hear about an indigenous grower-to-grower movement and how its promoters in the informal association, “Komunitas Chaya...
  12. The tree spinach (Cnidoscolus chayamansaMcVaughn, Euphorbiaceae), called "chaya" in south Texas, is popular in Mexico and Central America and has been introduced into the United States (mainly South Texas and Florida) for potential uses as a leafy vegetable and/or as a medicinal plant. The plant...
  13. 1992-07-19 Dr. Rosling does not like the statement “cassava contains cyanide.” A food that contained pure hydrogen cyanide could be easily detoxified (it would be driven off as a gas by cooking). If any free cyanide is present in cassava, it can easily be driven off into the air by temperatures over 28C (82...
  14. 2016-10-18 Cory Thede, working on the north coast of Haiti, sent a note about a local chaya plant with a lower branch that mutated to a wild stinging type. He commented, “After I backed up against it, it gave me an itchy rash on my arm for about a week. The upper branch is regular and almost spineless.” He...
  15. 2014-11-19 The world relies on just five crops for more than 50 percent of their food intake.If anything happened to any one of these crops, millions would starve to death.In her presentation Penny will explain why it is important to select underutilized, nutritious crops, and learn everything you can about...
  16. 2015-03-26 There are perennial vegetables that are quite resilient and also highly nutritious. These vegetables can significantly improve diet, increase the body’s ability to capture the value of foods, and be incorporated into common foods. This presentation will discuss producing and using Chaya, Katuk,...
  17. Chaya belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family. It is native to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, where it grows naturally in thickets and open forests. It is widely cultivated in Mexico and Central America, often planted in hedges and home gardens. It has been introduced to southern Florida and...
  18. Chaya grows easily in Cambodia Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa or C. aconitifolius) is a perennial plant that grows easily throughout Cambodia. Many people know it by the name “spinach tree”. If left alone, a Chaya plant can grow to be a small tree about 4- 5m high. By pruning the plant, it grows...
  19. Miracles in Action has brochures about chaya available in English and Spanish. A collection of recipes for chaya, in Spanish, is also available for download: Chaya Folleto – Español Chaya brochure – English Recetas con Chaya Miracles in Action seeks out under-served pockets of need in rural...
  20. 2013-09-24 In this short video we expose a little bit of the beauty and wealth of Guatemala as a Megadiverse country, and present Chaya as an ancient superfood to combat malnutrition today.
  21. 2017-11-14 Margaret Tagwira will share about the successful promotion of chaya in Zimbabwe
  22. Abstract -Animal Feed Science and Technology, 1999 Chaya leaf meal (CLM) (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius(Mill.) Johnston) was evaluated as a poultry feed ingredient in a series of two pilot studies. In experiment I, diets containing 0, 25, 50 and 75g CLM kg1were fed, ad libitum, to 480 day-old broiler...

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