Botanical name : Cnidoscolus aconitifolius
Family : Euphorbiaceae
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.
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.