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Chaya is sometimes called tree spinach. Its large leaves are boiled and eaten, especially in Mexico. It is also used to wrap tamales. The plant becomes a shrub about the height of a person and is quite attractive. Occasional pruning will make a more compact, bushy plant. Only if left unattended for a few years will it even resemble a tree here in Florida. The stems break so easily that you can easily prune them
As with its cousin, cassava, the leaves of chaya must be cooked around 10 minutes or more in boiling water or cooked as a stir fry or baked in a casserole to remove the small amount of cyanide they contain. Do not use them fresh in salads. The texture of the chaya leaf is firmer than many cooked greens. They remind me of collard greens. Most varieties of chaya have small stinging hairs that are harmless after cooking, but the variety ECHO sells is free of these hairs. A USDA study in Puerto Rico reported that one can get higher yields of greens per unit area with chaya than any other vegetable they have studied.
Chaya is unique in that it is exceptionally resistant to the hot humid weather of a Florida summer and to extreme dry weather (that is the climate in Central America where the plant is native). Insects have not bothered chaya at ECHO. If the plant blows over in a tropical storm or the above-ground part is killed by a freeze, don’t worry. This often makes for a prettier, more unique plant, as the main stem sends up additional branches and a bushier plant results. Chaya plants almost never produce seeds, but propagate easily by cuttings.
Scientific Name: Cnidoscolus aconitifolius