Scientific Name: Cnidoscolus chayamansa, Cnidoscolus aconitifolius

Other Names: Tree spinach, Miracle plant

Description: 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.  Chaya also comes in a naturalized variety with stinging hairs, but we aren’t growing that variety.

Permaculture Uses: Chaya’s young leaves and thick succulent stems make a tasty, nutritious, non-slimy vegetable when cooked. The entire plant may be ground, dried and used as animal feed. Chaya leaf meal has been developed as a chick feed in Ghana. Chaya is a good source of protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron; and is also a rich source of antioxidants. However, raw chaya leaves are toxic as they contain a glucoside that can release toxic cyanide. Cooking is essential prior to consumption to inactivate the toxic components. Up to 5 raw leaves can be eaten a day.

Propagation: Stem cuttings

Local Challenges: None noted.

Planted Varieties

Chayamansa: Cnidoscolus chayamansa, also known as Maple leaf variety.

Estrella: Cnidoscolus aconitifolius – Star/Estrella Variety. the estrella chaya is an attractive species with deeply lobed leaves shaped like elm trees and tiny white flowers that attract butterflies. (RIP, this plant didn’t survive, might try again next year.)