Updated in October, 2009
“Here is a contribution of the unforgettable Maya Indians, whom we have abandoned,” is the wistful introduction to a pamphlet on the chaya plant, from Desarollo Integral de la Familia (DIF), which goes on to call chaya“an ideal food and medicine.”
According to the National Institute of Nutrition in Mexico City, ingesting chaya will:
- Improve blood circulation,
- help digestion,
- improve vision,
- disinflame veins and hemorrhoids,
- help lower cholesterol,
- help reduce weight,
- prevent coughs,
- augment calcium in the bones,
- decongest and disinfect the lungs,
- prevent anemia by replacing iron in the blood,
- improve memory and brain function and
- combat arthritis and diabetes.
A nutritional analysis (see chart) shows that chaya is richer in iron than spinach, and a powerful source of potassium and calcium.
It’s also incredibly easy to grow and an attractive addition to the garden with its maple-like leaves and tidy growth pattern. It limits itself to about six feet in height. Plant a row close together and you’ll soon have a hedge. The plants tend to be open toward the bottom, so you can create a border with low- and medium-growing herbs.
Despite the near-miraculous claims for it, I’ve run into very few Mexicans who are familiar with chaya, and have never seen it in the market. To grow your own, stake branches of about 40 centimeters in sandy soil with good drainage, and water regularly. It grows well in a median annual temperature of 25 C. or higher, and at altitudes of 0 to 1000 meters above sea level.
It needs to be cooked well. No aluminum.
See more by googling Chaya Tree or at