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Celebrating Chaya -- Mayan tree Spinach

I guess that I eat a lot of greens. My every day consumption is not of raw, but cooked, leaves.
I am not of the salad persuasion. Nor am I of the lightly stir-fried sort.
I try to grow the greens I like to eat. That way I always have plenty of different stems to forage.
Among my preferred leafy comestibles Chaya has become my favourite.
The spinach tree of the Maya, Chaya is indigenous to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsular so it sure has culinary context.
Now that my specimens are keenly verdant, I can harvest the leaves as impulse dictates.
They are generous leaves too. Not as big as your Silver Beet or Kale, but ahead of the mini size leaf offered by Katuk, Okinawa Spinach, Warrigal Greens, Moringa or the English standard.

Chaya has high levels of protein, calcium and iron, nutrients many people are concerned about. The leaves are also chocked with carotene, potassium and vitamin C. Studies have shown the nutritional content of Chaya to be two or three times that of foods like spinach and Chinese cabbage.(SOURCE)

They cook up well and hold their fibre without dissolving to mush, despite the requisite boil time of 20 minutes.
Why 20 minutes? Chaya leaves must not be eaten raw because they contain hydocyanic glucosides. Cooking inactivates the release of toxic cyanide components which, I gather, are steamed off (so don't go burying your head in the pot). This is the same challenge with Cassava -- a distant relative.
If you check out the nutritional value of Chaya leaves and avail yourself of the possibility that they are delicious, the 20 minute prep is surely worth the wait. So much of greens from the one stunning plant!
Folk go on and on about Kale or Moringa — but really, there is no disguising their taste.
Chaya, on the other hand, despite being of similar ‘miraculous’ status, is a buzz in the mouth and much more generous with the leaves.
As I said, it’s a tree! How about that! May grow to 6 metres but here in SEQ I’m not sure. Not yet, anyway. It is at least a bush and all its leaves are edible (so long as you do the twenty).
I know that Chaya plants not readily available in SEQ (I had to share a cutting with a woman in Cairns!) so I’m hoping to nursery up a few over the next few months and grow myself a Chaya hedge.
Like I did with Katuk — I’ll have Chaya planted and growing hither and yon. And I must have at least 10 straggly Katuk bushes about the place.
Outside of the heat they are hard to bring on. But if you do the cuttings right they begrudgingly will take.

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Comment by Dave Riley on September 6, 2021 at 1:53

 I'm passionate about Chaya leaves in cooking such that I quickly took cuttings from the single plant I had to make more.

Subsequently, a woman from Cairns asked for a plant and now another from Melbourne (yes, cold Melbourne!).

Why me? The simple reason is that you can't get Chaya plants by dint of searching for them. No stock, you see, are on offer from suppliers.

As history confirms, I do run a Vetiver Grass nursery and there I am (over) committed to pussy's bow with pre-existing orders. But methinks I am going to try replicating Chaya commercially. I am -- or could be -- a niche.

Besides, I'm a Chaya evangelist.

Pity that it is so desultory when striking.

Unfortunately, because of the effort involved, I won't be able to offer cheap plants for some time --as I do with the Vetiver. The going price for Chaya -- when it was actually available -- was around $14 per plant with postage cost on top of that. 

I  reckon I could get it down to $10 in the first season of division. How much I could scale up is the question, especially doing so here in the sub tropics when the plant prefers to grown further north.

In the meantime, I yearn for my own plants to set leaves so I can begin the feast. Awesome texture and taste. Stunning nutritional profile.

My other enterprise was to grow oyster mushrooms during the cooler months using a vetiver grass substrate. Unfortunately we haven't harvested enough stems  to attempt that yet. But next year...yummy mushies.

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