Updated: Aug 2
Plant family: Euphorbiaceae
Incorporating Chaya in the Garden Ecosystem
Chaya, often referred to as "tree spinach" or "chicasquil," is a fast-growing perennial shrub with a long history of use in Mexico and Central America. Its a beautiful plant that does well with pruning and can make an attractive hedge in the summertime. The plant likes growing as an understory plant, and does well in dappled shade. We've also noticed that its abundant white flowers attract hummingbirds. Chaya is also easy to propagate from cuttings, but be careful with the milky sap the plant exudes, as it can irritate the skin. There are several varieties of chaya, but the type we have is the Estrella type or Cnidoscolus aconitifolius.
In Central Texas, chaya will die down to the ground in cold weather. We've been bringing ours into the greenhouse each winter, but we hear from other gardeners that it will likely come back from the roots if well-established.
Working with Chaya
Chaya's star-shaped leaves are a nutrient-rich food source that can be eaten a lot like spinach or chard. The leaves are very high in protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. However, they must be cooked for at least five minutes first due to the presence of hydrocyanic glycoside. So far we've just been enjoying the plant in our landscaping so can't speak from personal experience yet about cooking with chaya. We'll keep this post updated though as we learn more.
We love growing chaya trees and often have chaya trees for sale in Central Texas, depending on the season. Here's how to order plants from us.