Chayote has its origin in Mesoamerica and over the years it has been introduced as well as successfully grown in the form of a crop throughout the world. The countries that mainly grow chayote as a crop include Abkhazia, Mexico, Brazil, Vera Cruz and Costa Rica. Most of the chayotes cultivated in Costa Rica are exported to countries in the European Union. On the other hand, Vera Cruz exports most of its chayote crop to the United States.
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Precisely speaking, chayote is a perennially growing vine, which climbs by clinging to various supports with its obstinate tendrils. In its native habitat, chayote grows over shrubs, runs along fences and also climbs vertically on trees. In order to flourish, this herb needs a humid soil that is well drained and a prolonged, warm growing season. In farms where chayote is cultivated commercially, the plants are supported by erecting strong trellis. The flowers of chayote are small and white hued. These flowers are monoecious (separate male and female flowers). Generally, chayote flowers are pollinated by honeybees (scientific name Apis mellifera).
The fruits of chayote, known as chayote squash or chayote pears, mature and become ready for harvesting roughly after 30 days of pollination. A single chayote plant can bear as many as 150 fruits in one growing season. The skin of the chayote fruit is thin and light green with numerous shallow furrows running vertically on its surface. Some varieties of chayote have a hairy or spiky surface, but most of them have smooth skin. Within, the flesh is pale-white, enclosing a creamy white seed ovule in the center.
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Chayotes have a crunchy texture and its flavour is mildly sweet, which may be compared to the taste of pumpkin or butternut squash.
Chayotes have several uses, including therapeutic and culinary. The leaves as well as the fruits of the herb possess anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular, diuretic, and laxative properties. Decoctions prepared from the fruits and leaves of chayote are employed in the form of a diuretic to alleviate urine retention as well as burning sensation during urination, in addition to dissolving kidney stones. This decoction is also used to aid in the treatment of hypertension and arteriosclerosis.
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Chayote leaves are also used to prepare an herbal tea, which is drunk to lower high blood pressure (hypertension), cure atherosclerosis, and dissolve kidney stones or to treat stiffening of the arteries. The herbal teas prepared from the chayote squash flesh possess mild diuretic properties and in some regions of the globe people also drink it to cure bloating.
Several parts of chayote, including the stems, leaves, fruits and roots contain flavonoids and are also edible. It is worth mentioning here that flavonoids are basically antioxidants, which defend our body from cellular harm as well as inflammation caused by the damaging free radicals. Free radicals are naturally oxidized inside our body after we breathe, eat, exercise and are exposed to toxins. Antioxidants work to reduce this harmful process. The interesting thing about flavonoids found in chayote squash is that they continue to be active as well as undamaged in our intestines even after cooking the vegetable. Our body takes up these flavonoids from the intestines and use them to minimize inflammation.
Aside from flavonoids, chayotes are also a wonderful source of folate, a form of B vitamin that aids in putting off accumulation of homocysteine. Findings of some studies have revealed that where there is any excess of homocysteine (an amino acid) in our blood stream, it increases the chances of developing stroke and coronary heart disease.
Chayote also contains significant amounts of vitamin C, which is a potent antioxidant and helps to guard the cells from damages caused by the harmful free radicals. Several studies have hinted that antioxidants may inhibit or perhaps even put off development of cancer. Chayote also contains the essential mineral manganese, which facilitates the body to convert fat and protein into energy.
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Since chayote contains lots of dietary fibres, consuming this vegetable helps to protect us from constipation. The dietary fibres present in chayote squash help to support regular bowel movement. Hence, it is always beneficial to incorporate this vegetable in your diet. Chayote also encloses copper. This vegetable helps iodine to ensure that the thyroid remains healthy by supplying our body with copper. In fact, the essential mineral copper is associated with thyroid metabolism, particularly in the production as well as absorption of hormones.
Chayote is also an excellent natural source of zinc, another essential mineral that has shown the ability to control hormones, which regulates oil production in our skin.
Since chayote also contains vitamin K, it is effective in preventing bone loss. Consuming chayote supplies our body with the required amount of vitamin K. Findings of studies have shown that there is a link between osteoporosis and vitamin K.
Participants of studies undertaken to ascertain the health benefits of consuming chayote have revealed that vitamin B6 found in this vegetable facilitates the performance of the brain in specific age groups.
Chayote eases weary, heavy legs. When you experience tired and heavy legs, you should know that it is a signal from the body that it requires additional potassium. Therefore, you need to eat more foods that are rich in potassium and chayote is certainly one of them.
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Chayote possesses properties that help in regenerating cells. For instance, the mummies of people from San Bernardo, a town in Colombia, are well-known as their flesh and skin have been preserved perfectly. It is said that these dead people regularly consumed elevated amounts of chayote squash.
Aside from the above mentioned health benefits of consuming chayote, you can also grate the raw vegetable and use it beneath a bandage. It will help in lessening bruises, inflammation and swelling.
The white sap like liquid released by chayote when you peel the vegetable can also be put to use effectively. You can apply this sap to scars with a view to make them fade. Consuming chayote regularly may also prove to be beneficial, as it may help in preventing acne, muscle cramps, enhancing your memory and, at the same time, ensure that the health of your thyroid is good.
Chayote has a mild flavour, which can enhance the essence of salad ingredients. Moreover, it can also be used as a pickled substitute for cucumber pickles or just used raw in the form of a crunchy snack. When cooked and pureed, the texture of chayote squash becomes smooth and creamy. Furthermore, you can also add chayote squash to soups as well as stews, in addition to using it as a substitute for summer squash in several recipes.
In most cases, the fruit of chayote is consumed after cooking. Usually, chayote is cooked in the same manner as summer squash. In fact, people usually cook the chayote fruit lightly with a view to keep its crispy consistency intact. Raw chayote is generally considered to be particularly inedible, especially for its tough texture. However, at times, though very rarely, people also add it to salads or salsas generally after marinating it with lime juice or lemon. Irrespective of the manner it is consumed, raw or after cooking, chayote is an excellent source of vitamin C.
While majority of us know that the chayote fruit is edible, many are still not aware of the fact that even the stem, leaves, root and the seeds of this herb can be eaten. The tubers of chayote plant are consumed in the same manner as we eat potatoes and many other root vegetables. Similarly, the leaves and shoots of this herb are generally consumed as ingredients of salads and even stir fried. This is more common in Asia.
Similar to other plants belonging to the gourd family like squash, melons and cucumbers, chayote too is a sprawling plant and you should only plant this species provided you have lots of room in your garden or yard. The roots of chayote are also very vulnerable to rot, particularly when grown in containers. In general, chayote plants grow very fast. Contrary to this, this is an easily grown garden or yard plant in Australia as well as New Zealand, where people usually grow the plant against a fence or set it on a support made from chicken wire.
As of now there have been not negative reports of consuming chayote squash. However when peeling, chayotes give out a liquid similar to a sap or latex, which may result in an unusual itchy feeling plus numbness in the parts of the hand handling it. This fluid is sticky and it is believed that this sticky liquid is responsible for some kind of temporary anesthetic reaction on the body parts it comes in contact with. Nevertheless, the reaction caused by the liquid is self-limiting and does not have any long-term effect. It is possible to minimize the consequences of these reactions by wearing protective gloves. Alternatively, you can also peel the chayotes in cold running water to reduce the effect.