Chaya uses and facts

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Chaya uses and facts

Chaya Quick Facts
Name: Chaya
Scientific Name: Cnidoscolus aconitifolius
Origin Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico
Shapes Ovoid-globose, hispid capsule
Taste Do not have strong or distinct taste
Health benefits Beneficial for digestion, anemia, cough, cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, memory and hemorrhoids
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius also known as Chaya, aka ‘Mayan Tree Spinach’ or ‘Mexican Tree Spinach’, is actually a large fast-growing and productive perennial shrub from the Euphorbiaceae (Spurge) family of plants. The plant is native to Central America, and is supposed to have originated on the Yucatan peninsula. Few of the popular common names of the plant are Spinach Tree, Tread Softly, Cabbage Star, Chaya, Chicasquil, Devil nettle and Tree-spinach. Regionally it is known as just “chaya”, which is derived from the Mayan word for the plant which is “chaay”.  Ancient Mayan’s used chaya as a dietary staple for centuries because of its amazing nutritional qualities which gave people the strength they needed for their often harsh work and physically demanding lives.  The specific epithet, aconitifolius, means “Aconitum-like leaves”. Chaya is eaten as a leafy green vegetable, and is very common in Mexico. It is cooked just like spinach and is excellent in stir-fries! It’s a wonderful source of protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron and also a rich source of antioxidants. It actually has more nutritional benefit then Spinach and is quite literally, a super green! The leaves must be cooked before being eaten, as the raw leaves are toxic.

Traditionally Chaya has been recommended for a number of ailments including diabetes, obesity, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, acne, and eye problems. Chaya shoots and leaves have been taken as a laxative, diuretic, circulation stimulant, to improve digestion, to stimulate lactation, and to harden the fingernail. Like most food plants such as lima beans, cassava, and many leafy vegetables, the leaves contain hydrocyanic glycosides, a toxic compound easily destroyed by cooking. Even though some people tend to eat raw chaya leaves, it is risky to do so.

Plant description

Chaya is a monoecious, much branched, large, fast-growing leafy perennial shrub that often grow to 3 m (10 ft.) in height, and 2 m (6.5 ft.) in width but some may reach up to five or six meters tall. The plant is found growing in moist and dry thickets in open forest, often in open rocky localities and tolerates most soil conditions, but might dislike acid and grows well in moist, well-drained soil. The plant has short stout trunk which is 6 inches in diameter. Bark is light gray brown with darker streaks, becoming finely fissured. Inner bark is whitish with light green outer layer, almost tasteless, with abundant white latex. Twigs are very stout, green with large whitish dots (lenticels), becoming light gray brown, with large oblong raised leaf scars and often with scattered stinging hairs.


Leaves are dark green, alternate, simple, slick surfaced often with some hairs and palmately lobed (much like the leaves of okra). Each leaf is 6 to 8 inches across and is borne on a long slender petiole (leaf stem). Where the leaf stem connects to the leaf, the leaf veins are fleshy and cuplike. Wood of young stems is soft, easily broken, and susceptible to rot. When cut, the stem exudes white latex


Flower clusters (cymes) are terminal at the end of a long stalk, flat-topped, and 3-5 inches across, bearing many male flowers and few female flowers (monoecious) without petals.  Male flowers many but only a few open at one time, about 1/2 inch long and broad, consisting of narrow greenish-tinged calyx tube 1/4 inch long, 5 spreading elliptic lobes 1/4 inch long, and on orange disk the white stamen column with 2 circles of 5 stamens to 3/8 inch long and third circle nonfunctional (staminodes).  Female flowers few, terminal, opening first, composed of 5 white sepals more than 1/4 inch long which fall early and on a disk the pistil 1/4 inch long, with finely hairy light green egg-shaped 3-celled ovary with 3 ovules and 3 white widely working styles.  Flowers are followed by a ovoid-globose, bristly ellliptic-3-celled hispid capsule 3/8 inch long.  Seeds 1 in each cell, that are 6–8 mm long and carunculate.

Some of the popular health benefits of chaya are:

  • Improved blood circulation
  • Aids in digestion
  • Improved vision
  • Dis-inflammation of veins and hemorrhoids
  • Help to lower cholesterol
  • Help to reduce weight
  • Prevent coughs
  • Augmenting calcium in the bones
  • Decongestion and disinfecting of the lungs
  • Prevent anemia by replacing iron in the blood
  • Improve memory and brain function
  • Combat arthritis
  • Improves glucose metabolism and prevents diabetes.

Traditional uses and benefits of Chaya

  • Plant is said to have many medicinal benefits, ranging from the ability to strengthen fingernails and darken greying hair.
  • It is also used to cure alcoholism, diabetes, insomnia, skin disorders, venereal diseases, gout, and scorpion stings and to improve brain function and memory.
  • Diabetic rabbits, fed increasingly higher quantities of the leaves, showed a significant drop in blood sugar levels.
  • Chaya traditionally has been recommended for a number of ailments including obesity, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, acne, and eye problems.
  • Chaya shoots and leaves have been taken as a laxative, diuretic, circulation stimulant, to improve digestion, to stimulate lactation, and to harden the fingernails.

Culinary Uses

  • Young chaya leaves and the thick, tender stem tips are cut and boiled as spinach.
  • Traditionally leaves are immersed and simmered for 20 minutes and then served with oil or butter.
  • Young leaves and shoots, detoxified by cooking, are eaten as a vegetable.
  • They can be eaten alone or in combination with other vegetables in stews and soups.
  • They are only rarely eaten raw as fresh greens.
  • Popular drink in Yucatan (Mexico) is made by blending the raw leaves in sugar water with lemons, pineapple and other fruits.
  • Leaves are also good cooked in coconut milk with ground foods like potatoes and yams or breadfruit.
  • Chaya can be used in any recipe that calls for cooked spinach, including lasagna and even pizza!
  • Young leaves are used to wrap tamales or are eaten with the thick terminal stems cooked as greens.
  • Leaves are flavorful when cooked with ham, onion, salt and pepper, or with salt and vinegar.


Sautéed chaya recipe via Los Dos Cooking School


  • 2 Tbs. (45 ml) olive oil
  • 4 oz. (114g) slab bacon, cut into large dice
  • 1 large red onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 8 cups (2 liters) chaya leaves, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped (Substitute: spinach, Swiss chard, kale)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil and bacon until bacon is cooked.
  2. Remove bacon and set aside to drain.
  3. Reduce heat and add onion, garlic and bell pepper and cook until softened.
  4. Add chaya and cover.
  5. Cook 20-25 minutes or until chaya is tender, stirring occasionally.
  6. Return bacon to skillet and toss to incorporate. Check seasonings and serve.

Chaya with scrambled eggs


  • 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
  • 2 Tablespoons of white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup tomato, chopped
  • 1/3 cup Chaya, cooked and chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt to taste


  1. Wash Chaya leaves and place them in a pot with cold water over medium high heat. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The chaya leaves will keep their bright green color. Remove from pot, drain and chop to cook.
  2. Heat a medium-sized non-stick frying pan over low heat. Add the oil, once it is hot add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes.
  3. Stir in the chopped tomato and cook for a minute and then add the chopped chaya leaves. Sauté for two more minutes.
  4. Crack the eggs and add to the pan, stir and season with salt to taste. Cook until desire doneness.
  5. Serve with beans, fried plantains or sliced avocado and warm corn tortillas.

Cream of chaya soup recipe via


  • 20 leaves, chaya (tender, washed)
  • 2 cups milk (whole make it nice and rich)
  • 4 leaves basil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 cup vegetable bouillon (chicken OK)
  • Pepper
  • Salt, to your taste


  1. Place Chaya leaves, chopped onions and crushed garlic in a pot with the bouillon and cook for two minutes or until leaves are blanched (use mid-heat).
  2. Add milk and let it cool.
  3. Use a stick blender mixes to a smooth velvety texture the remaining ingredients.
  4. Cook another five to ten minutes or until mixture gets really hot but does not boil.
  5. Serve hot.
  6. Add the final touch by placing the unsweetened cream in a small bag; cutting the bag’s bottom tip, you can create a lovely design atop your served soup bowls.
  7. For a zesty taste, sprinkle a bit of crush dried red chili as well.
  8. Or add a dab of sour cream.

Other facts

  • Plant is grown as a hedge in home gardens.
  • Dried or fresh Chaya leaves and branches make good fodder for chickens, and help to increase egg production.


  • Uncooked leaves contain cyanogenic glycosides that produce hydrogen cyanide upon tissue damage.
  • Long-term contact with the white sap can cause skin irritation.
  • Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested.
  • Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.






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