Journal of
Medicinal Plants Research

  • Abbreviation: J. Med. Plants Res.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 1996-0875
  • DOI: 10.5897/JMPR
  • Start Year: 2007
  • Published Articles: 3728


Phenolic profile and antioxidant capacity of Cnidoscolus chayamansa and Cnidoscolus aconitifolius: A review

A. Kuri-García
  • A. Kuri-García
  • Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales, Campus Juriquilla, Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, Av. de las Ciencias S/N, Juriquilla, Querétaro, Qro. CP 76230, México.
  • Google Scholar
J. L. Chávez-Servín
  • J. L. Chávez-Servín
  • Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales, Campus Juriquilla, Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, Av. de las Ciencias S/N, Juriquilla, Querétaro, Qro. CP 76230, México.
  • Google Scholar
S. H. Guzmán-Maldonado
  • S. H. Guzmán-Maldonado
  • Laboratorio de Alimentos-Campo Experimental Bajío (INIFAP), Km 6.5 Carretera Celaya-San Miguel de Allende, C. P. 38110 Celaya, Gto., México.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 28 September 2017
  •  Accepted: 16 November 2017
  •  Published: 03 December 2017


Research into ancient cultures has yielded a large body of evidence on the use of medicinal plants for preventive and/or therapeutic purposes. Such plants may have many metabolic activities and functions in the body-antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, platelet aggregation inhibitory and immunological and they can act at different molecular levels. This work offers a comprehensive review of research into the phenolic profile and antioxidant capacity of a plant used since the pre-Columbian era, native to southeast Mexico, commonly known as "chaya". The most prevalent phytochemicals in this plant are its phenolic compounds, and their antioxidant capacity is responsible for many of its health benefits, specifically in controlling chronic diseases. In the chaya leaf, there is a general trend toward the presence of different phenolic groups, such as coumarin, flavonoids, phenols, tannins, anthraquinones and flobotanins in aqueous and alcoholic extracts. Aside from environmental factors, there are differences in the ways samples are treated before the extraction process, such as the treatment type and the drying conditions. There are also differences in the solvents used and in the methods of extraction and concentration of compounds. Finally, a diversity of techniques is used, and even the data are quantified and expressed differently. Chaya has great potential for production as food and as a medicinal plant, but much more research is needed on the composition of its leaf and the biological effects of its components.

Key words: Chaya, Cnidoscolus aconitifolius, Cnidoscolus chayamansa, phenolic compounds, antioxidant capacity.

Abbreviation: GAE, Gallic acid equivalents; CAE, chlorogenic acid equivalents; CE, catequin equivalents; TE, tannin equivalents; FM, fresh matter; DM, dry matter.


The use of plants in medicine goes back to the beginnings of human civilization. Substantial evidence has been found on the use of plants for preventive and/or therapeutic purposes in ancient cultures (Mwine and Van Damme, 2011). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a medicinal plant is one that contains substances that can be used for therapeutic purposes and/or can serve as active ingredients for the synthesis of new drugs (WHO, 2005). The use of traditional medicines and medicinal plants has been widely observed in most developing countries, where they are seen as therapeutic agents for the maintenance of good health (Soetan and Aiyelaagbe, 2009).
For several decades, various lines of research have been pursued into medicinal plants and their components. One of them focuses on the study of the composition of minority compounds, mainly phenolic compounds, given their various benefits in battling chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, neurodegeneration, and cancer (Del Rio et al., 2013). They cover a wide range of metabolic activities and have many functions in the body: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, platelet aggregation inhibitory and immunological; and they can act at different molecular levels. Thus, the consumption of phenolic compounds is associated with health benefits (Rangel-Huerta et al., 2015). Also, several studies in plants report on their antioxidant capacity.
There are a large number of publications on different plants, applying a variety of methods for extracting and measuring phenolic compounds and antioxidant capacity (Gutiérrez-Grijalva et al., 2016). These publications differ considerably in the types of processing used for the raw material, and also the solvents used (for example, aqueous, alcoholic and non-polar, as well as different mixtures thereof), as well as the times, temperatures, concentration, and other factors. Finally, there are diverse ways of expressing the content of phenolic compounds and antioxidant capacity. This work offers a comprehensive review of the literature on the phenolic profile and antioxidant capacity of a plant that has been in use since the pre-Columbian era, native to southeast Mexico, commonly known as "chaya".


Chaya refers to any group of plants of the genus Cnidoscolus, which is a part of the family Euphorbiaceae (Cifuentes et al., 2010). This genus is composed of 50 species, 20 of which are endemic to Mexico. They are distributed in tropical and subtropical areas, mainly in regions of low deciduous forest and xerophilous scrub of Mexico (Kolterman et al., 1984). Some species of Cnidoscolus are of interest for their nutritional potential, particularly the most commonly used for both consumption and traditional uses such as medicinal and ornamental plants, Cnidoscolus aconitifolius and Cnidoscolus chayamansa (Kolterman et al., 1984). C. aconitifolius has pentalobulated leaves, with lobed, serrated edges, with a long petiole length, without pubescences, with sagittate base, with the presence of glands and with white flowers (Adebiyi et al., 2012). In contrast, C. chayamansa has three-lobed leaves, with smooth lobed edges, with short petiole length, without pubescence, and similarly with sagittate base, with the presence of glands and with white flowers (Standley and Steyerman, 1949) (Figure 1). These two species originated in the Yucatán region of southern Mexico and are fast-growing perennial shrubs (Grubben and Denton, 2004).
The chaya plant is a domesticated shrub, highly valued by people in rural communities of central and southern Mexico as food, as a medicinal plant and as an ornamental. Chaya has been used as food since pre-Columbian times and is currently consumed regularly in some populations (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002). In addition, chaya leaves have been found to be an important source of protein, β-carotene, vitamins, ascorbic acid, calcium, potassium, and iron (Jiménez-Arellanes et al., 2014; Kuti and Kuti, 1999). Chaya is consumed in a manner similar to spinach, which is why it is also called “Mayan spinach” (Ross-Ibarra, 2003). But its nutrient content is far superior to spinach: 78% more proteins, 111% more fiber, 100% more iron and 242% more vitamin C (Kuti and Torres, 1996) (Table 1).

Chaya leaves contain a cyanogenic glycoside called Linamarin. Linamarin is a glucoside conjugate of an acetone and a cyanide (Kuti and Konuru, 2006). It is a secondary metabolite of plants that performs defense functions, since when it is hydrolyzed by enzymes it releases hydrogen cyanide, a process called cyanogenesis. The content of cyanogenic glycosides according to Gonzalez-Laredo et al. (2003) is 2.37 to 4.25 mg/100 g dry matter (DM). These authors tested various thermal treatments to remove this compound from the leaves and reported that 5 min in boiling water is sufficient to remove any residue of cyanide (Figure 2).
The use of chaya leaves has been reported in traditional medicine for various pathologies, where it is believed to have antidiabetic, antioxidant, hepatoprotective, and hormone-related properties on the pituitary-gonadal axis (García-Rodríguez et al., 2014; Hitchcock et al., 1997; Jiménez-Arellanes et al., 2014; Kulathuran et al., 2012; Kuti and Konuru, 2006; Kuti and Torres 1996; Loarca-Piña et al., 2010; Lucky and Festus, 2014; Miranda-Velasquez et al., 2010). These plants can grow up to 6 m high, with lobed leaves, milky sap and small dichotomous white flowers at the tip of the branches. It is propagated by planting stem cuttings or woody stem cuttings. Within the chaya subspecies there is a considerable morphological and phenological variation. In research carried out by Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002), four cultivated varieties of chaya were identified, with easily separable and quite consistent morphological differences, but their taxonomy is not yet assigned. These are classified as star, beaked, chayamansa and round. Seeds and ripe fruit are rare and unknown (McVaugh, 1994). Given the ease of its cultivation, its potential productivity, and above all its high nutritional value, chaya has been proposed as a potential crop for regions outside of Mesoamerica (Kuti and Torres, 1996; Molina-Cruz et al., 1997; Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002).



Atoms or molecules containing one or more unpaired electrons are called free radicals. Free radicals are responsible for tissue degeneration through damage to DNA, proteins and lipid peroxidation through oxidative stress, which has been implicated in the pathophysiology of different diseases. Some authors have found that the degree of damage caused by free radicals can be mitigated by supplementation with one or more antioxidants (Marchioli et al., 2001). Several compounds with differential antioxidant properties are found in plants and these plants are considered to have high biological potential in the context of the prevention and treatment of damage caused by free radicals. Several medicinal plants have been examined and evaluated for their properties in antagonism toward free radicals induced by oxidative stress (Esparza-Martínez et al., 2016; Vinson et al., 2001).
Some of these plants’ medicinal properties are attributed to their phytochemical composition, specifically a variety of minority compounds derived from the secondary metabolism of plants, which have attracted interest recently for their bioactive effects. Phenolic compounds are among these, and are ubiquitous in foods of plant origin. The main functions of phenolic compounds in plants have to do with pigmentation and protection against pathogens and predators. They are chemical compounds having at least one aromatic ring to which one or more hydroxyl groups are attached to aromatic or aliphatic structures (Bravo, 1998). There are over 10,000 different phenolic compounds, ranging from the simplest to the most complex, and their wide diversity in nature is evident upon analysis of their characteristics (Gutiérrez-Grijalva et al., 2016; Neveu et al., 2010; Rothwell et al., 2014; Zare et al., 2014).
Many constituents of these plants can contribute to their protective properties, including: vitamins C and E; selenium and other mineral micronutrients; carotenoids; phytoestrogens; glucosinolates and indoles; ditholthiones; isothiocyanates; protease inhibitors; fiber; and folic acid. These compounds may act alone or in combination, as anticarcinogenic or cardioprotective agents, through a variety of mechanisms. One of these protective mechanisms, attributed to vitamins C and E and to carotenoids, is antioxidant activity (radical barrier) (Rice-Evans et al., 1997). There are several classes of flavonoids, which differ in the level of oxidation and saturation of ring C, and individual compounds within each class differ in the substitution pattern of rings A and B (Wojdyło et al., 2007). Researchers have been looking into the antioxidant properties of many plant species for at least 50 years.
There is currently a great deal of interest in the commercial production of plants as sources of antioxidants that can enhance the properties of food, both for nutritional and medicinal purposes. Numerous epidemiological studies have shown an inverse relationship between consumption of fruits, vegetables and cereals and the incidence of coronary heart disease and certain cancers (Gunjan et al., 2011). The plant kingdom is vast, with thousands of species and varieties that demand study. The phenolic composition and antioxidant activity of plants, both wild and cultivated traditionally, are a particularly rich area for future research. The antioxidant capacity of various plants is generally studied with respect to the content of total phenolic compounds using traditional methods, and only one test is used to determine free radical scavenging ability. Although extensive studies of bioactive compounds and their content of total phenolic compounds have been carried out in many species, the phenolic identification data are still insufficient and incomplete.
In particular, quantitative data on specific phenolic compounds in plant species remains a pending task. There are also few comparisons of the phenolic constituents identified in several species of different plant families. Further research is required into the structure-activity relationships of phenolic compounds present in plant species (Czapecka et al., 2005; Ivanova et al., 2005). The objective of this work is to review the literature on phenolic composition and the antioxidant capacity of different extracts derived from the leaves of C. aconitifolius and C. chayamansa. A comprehensive search was performed using the terms "Cnidoscolus chayamansa" and "Cnidoscolus aconitifolius" without reducing or limiting the search elements. A total of 57 publications were consulted on the main scientific portals (Scopus, PubMed, Science Direct, Springer-Link, Wiley, Redalyc, Google Scholar, and Web of Science). The information was subsequently analyzed and classified as described subsequently.


Plant extracts are a complex mixture, with a multitude of chemical compounds obtained by physical and chemical processes from a natural source and usable in almost any technological field. The WHO estimates that 80% of developing country populations rely on traditional medicines, mostly plant drugs, for their primary health care needs (Soetan and Aiyelaagbe, 2009). Plant extracts have been used since the beginning of civilization because they increase the useful life of the compound. There are few synthetic chemicals that can be used without toxicity or side effects, but nature is a potential source for discovering new structures that may have therapeutic qualities. Various phenolic compounds such as flavonoids can be extracted from fresh or dry material, as long as proper methods and care are used to avoid significant alteration of their contents and composition. Nonpolar or slightly polar solvents are initially used to separate chlorophylls, gums and aglycones from highly methoxylated flavonoids.
 Flavonoids, which have many unsubstituted hydroxyl groups or sugars, are considered polar, so they are slightly soluble in polar solvents such as methanol, ethanol, acetone, dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) or water. The final filtrate is usually concentrated and the solvent is removed (Sarker and Nahar, 2012; Skerget et al., 2005). Most phenolic compounds are found within plant cells in aglyconated or in glycosylated form. This protects them from degradation, diminishes their toxic effects and at the same time aids transport through membranes, increasing their aqueous solubility. These compounds, in any of their forms, are already aglyconated or glycosylated, are in the vacuoles of plant cells and are in a soluble polar fraction. Therefore, these aglyconated and glycosylated compounds can be extracted relatively easily using polar solvents (Jones and Vogt, 2001).


Table 2 shows different forms of extraction of chaya leaf compounds reported in the literature.
Water extraction
Awoyinka et al. (2007) report that the aqueous extraction was performed from the dry leaves of C. aconitifolius that had been processed with a mortar and pestle. At the end, the substance was heated in an oven at 45°C until it reached a constant weight, although the proportion of the extraction is not specified. Musa et al. (2008) allowed the leaves of C. aconitifolius to dry at 40°C for 48 h. The reported extraction rate was 20 g of dried ground leaf to 1 L of cold distilled water, mixing for 48 h at a constant temperature. The mixture was then filtered and concentrated in a steam bath until 4.88 g of residue remained. Mordi and Akanji (2012) dried the C. aconitifolius leaves in the sun, and then macerated them. The proportion was 218 g of dry matter to 500 ml of distilled water using a rotoevaporator at 50°C. This residue was then lyophilized. Obichi et al. (2015) mentioned that only C. aconitifolius leaves were harvested, cleaned and air dried at 28°C for 28 days before use. Valenzuela et al. (2015) reported drying the C. chayamansa leaf for 15 days at room temperature in a closed and ventilated area, where the sample was then ground with a mortar and stored at room temperature. The sample was prepared by mixing 5 g of dry matter into 100 ml of distilled water at 90°C for 10 min. This was then filtered with Whatman paper (No. 4, 110 mm) and the extract was stored at 5°C for analysis. Babalola and Alabi (2015) reported four different processes: in the first group, the leaves of C. aconitifolius were bleached at 65°C for 10 min, in the second they were boiled at 100°C for 15 min, in the third the juice was extracted from the leaf, and in the fourth the residue of the juice was collected after extraction. Ramos-Gomez et al. (2016) used a technique gathered from available ethno-botanical information for C. chayamansa, which was to boil 20 g in 1 L of drinking water for 20 min, then to pass this mixture through a 0.5-mm pore size filter.
Extraction using ethanol and mix polar solvents
Kuti and Konuru (2004) mention that the extraction of C. aconitifolius was 5 g DM in 20 ml of ethanol/acetone/water/acetic acid (40:40:20:0.1 v/v). This is the only study that reports using a microwave oven (1.3 cu ft Panasonic microwave 1000-W), in which the sample was heated for 2 min, to remove the cyanogenic glycoside from the plant. Awoyinka et al. (2007) mention that C. aconitifolius dried leaves were ground in a mortar and that the extraction was carried out with 96% ethanol for 3 h. The resulting solution was placed in a rotoevaporator at 30°C for 25 min, then placed in a drying oven at 45°C until a constant weight was reached. Johnson et al. (2008) reported placing a mixture of 5 g of C. aconitifolius dried leaf in 40 ml of an ethanol/acetone/water/acetic acid solution (40:40:20:0.1 v/v), in a water bath at 60°C for 1 h. Mordi and Akanji (2012) mention that the air-dried powder from C. aconitifolius leaves (1 kg) of fresh matured C. aconitifolius were extracted by percolation at room temperature with 70% ethanol (EtOH). A leaf extract from C. aconitifolius was concentrated under reduced pressure (bath temperature 50°C) and finally defatted with n-hexane. The extract was evaporated to dryness. This yielded 69.9 g of dried mass. García-Rodríguez et al. (2014) mentioned that approximately 135 g of C. aconitifolius dried leaves were extracted by maceration using ethanol (9.44 g) at room temperature (25°C). The samples were kept in the dark at room temperature for successive testing during the course of the research reported. The solvent was removed by rotary evaporation to dryness and the resulting material dried completely in an oven at 25°C. Numa et al. (2015) mention that to prepare the soluble extract in ethanol, the C. aconitifolius leaf was dried, ground and macerated for 7 days in a solution of 96% ethanol, changing the solvent daily.
Extraction using methanol and mix polar solvents
The first report was by Kolterman et al. (1984), in which the dry matter of C. aconitifolius was extracted in 70% methanol/30% water. Later, González-Laredo et al. (2003) reported drying the leaves of C. chayamansa at 60°C for 6 h. These authors also performed a duplicate extraction with methanol and rotary evaporation at <40°C. Subsequently a separation was performed in duplicate using hexane, ethyl ether and ethyl acetate. Figueroa-Valverde et al. (2009) performed their extraction by placing 20 g of previously dried leaves of C. chayamansa in 250 ml of 80% methanol for 8 h, then performing a rotary evaporation of the mixture. They then added a chloroform: water solvent mixture (4:1 v/v) to remove the organic phase from the aqueous. The volume of the organic phase was reduced to dryness and the obtained mixture was reconstituted with 70% ethanol to be used as stock solution. Loarca-Piña et al. (2010) reported drying and macerating the C. chayamansa leaves, then performing the extraction by placing 500 g of dry leaf in 1000 ml of solvent (hexane-acetone, 1:1) at room temperature for 5 days, twice daily. Subsequently, the material was extracted with methanol under the same conditions. It was then dried in a rotoevaporator and stored at 4°C. In Adaramoye et al. (2011), approximately 3 kg of dry C. aconitifolius leaves were placed in an extractor at 30°C using methanol for 5 h and the extract was concentrated in a rotary evaporator at 35°C for 30 min. In Ikpefan et al. (2013), C. aconitifolius leaves were air dried for 5 days in a laboratory at room temperature. Oven drying was then carried out at 40°C, followed by milling in powder form, using an electric mill. 1 kg of the dry matter was extracted in 2.5 L of methanol. The extracted liquid obtained was concentrated using a rotoevaporator at a steady temperature of 40°C then kept in refrigeration afterwards.
Other solvents
García-Rodríguez et al. (2014) reported extraction from approximately 135 g of dried leaves of C. aconitifolius by maceration, using 5.27 g of ethyl acetate at room temperature (25°C). The solvent was removed by rotary evaporation to dryness and completely dried in an oven at 25°C. Escalante-Erosa et al. (2004) reported that they used 20 freshly cut C. aconitifolius leaves. Subsequently, they added 1 L of methylene chloride for 20 s. Afterwards, the mixture was subjected to rotary evaporation to produce 533.3 mg of wax. García-Rodríguez et al. (2014) reported that approximately 135 g of dried leaves were extracted by maceration using 5.68 g of hexane at room temperature (25°C). The solvent was removed by rotary evaporation to dryness and dried completely in an oven at 25°C.
Studies that do not report extraction
Sarmiento-Franco et al. (2003) mentioned only the use of ground dry matter from C. aconitifolius. Unlike Oyagbemi et al. (2011), they mentioned that the leaves of C. aconitifolius were collected, cleaned and air dried at room temperature. Aye (2012) reported that the preparation of C. aconitifolius leaves was washed, weighed and cooked in batches of 80 and 90°C for 10 min, and then allowed to dry. Akachukwu et al. (2014) mentioned only that the leaves of C. aconitifolius were dried in an oven at 40°C and subsequently ground. Jiménez-Aguilar and Grusak (2015) reported that C. aconitifolius leaves were dried in an oven at 70°C for 3 days to maintain a constant weight.
Phenolic compounds detected in chaya leaf
In an aqueous extraction, Musa et al. (2008) found different phenolic compounds in different concentrations: 1.86% phenols, 0.93% tannins, 0.30% flavonoids, 0.072% anthraquinones, and 0.065 % flobotannins (Table 3). Mordi and Akanji (2012), also using an aqueous extraction, found a moderate presence of phenols (++), a low presence of tannins (+), and a high presence of flobotannins (+++). In an aqueous extraction of chaya leaf, Obichi et al. (2015) found 5.7% of tannins and 23.7% of flavonoids. Babalola and Alabi (2015) also tested an aqueous extraction of chaya leaf and found 15.17 gallic acid equivalents (GAE)/100 g fresh matter (FM) of total phenolic compounds, and 243.33 mg/100 g FM of flavonoids. Valenzuela et al. (2015) performed a chaya leaf infusion and reported a total phenolic compound concentration of 6.34 mg GAE/ml. Kuti and Konuru (2004) performed leaf extractions of chaya using ethanol as solvent, reporting on the concentration of total phenolic compounds in raw and cooked leaves, finding values of 2906.2 and 2241.4 mg chlorogenic acid equivalents (CAE/kg) FM, in raw and cooked leaves, respectively. Various researchers analyzed ethanolic extracts: Awoyinka et al. (2007) reported a mean presence of tannins; Johnson et al. (2008) reported a total phenolic compound concentration of 5.6 mg GAE/g DM; Mordi and Akanji (2012) in an ethanolic extract reported a high presence of phenols and tannins and a low presence of flobotanins and flavonoids; García-Rodríguez et al. (2014) reported a low presence of coumarin and flavonoids, and a total phenolic compound concentration of 35.7 mg GAE/g DM. These authors also tested a hexanoic extract, in which reported a total phenolic compound concentration of 22.3 mg GAE/g DM. On the other hand, Loarca-Piña et al. (2010) tested a methanolic extract, and reported a concentration of phenolic compounds of 71.3 mg GAE/g extract, and a total flavonoid concentration of 42.7 mg catequin equivalents (CE)/g extract. Among other authors who tested a methanolic extract, Oyagbemi et al. (2011) reported a high presence of flavonoids and a low presence of tannins. Adaramoye et al. (2011), reported a high presence of flavonoids and a moderate presence of tannins. Aye (2012) reported a total phenolic compound concentration of 3.78% TE. Akachukwu et al. (2014) reported a tannin concentration of 0.14%, a phenol of 0.19% and a flavonoid of 2.36%. Jimenez-Aguilar and Grusak (2015) reported total phenolic compounds content of 5.66 mg GAE/g FM, and a total flavonoid content of 332.8 μg CE/g FM. Finally, using an ethyl acetate extractant, García-Rodríguez et al. (2014) found a weak presence of coumarin and flavonoids. They also found a concentration of 13.2 mg GAE/g DM of total phenolic compounds in a hexanoic extract.
    Results presented as reported by the authors.
Determination of individual compounds
Figure 2 presents the structures of the most reported phenolic compounds in chaya leaves. Valenzuela et al. (2015) reported the presence of quercetin and rutine in an aqueous extraction of C. chayamansa leaf (Table 4). Ramos-Gómez et al. (2016) performed an aqueous extraction of C. chayamansa leaf and analyzed by high performance liquid chromatography with a diode-array detector (HPLC-DAD)/mass spectrometer(MSD). They reported the concentration of different phenolic compounds: epigallocatequin gallate 27.4 mg/g FM, rosmarinic acid 26.8 mg/g FM, hesperidin 16.2 mg/g FM, vanillin 11.3 mg/g FM, rutin 10.6 mg/g FM, chlorogenic acid 8.6 mg/g FM, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid 8.1 mg/g FM, caffeic acid 5.4 mg/g FM, ferulic acid 4.7 mg/g FM, catechin 4.3 mg/g FM, protocatechic acid 4.2 mg/g FM, p-coumaric acid 3.0 mg/g FM, naringenin 2.7 mg/g FM, synapic acid 1.7 mg/g FM, quercetin 1.4 mg/g FM, ellagic acid 0.8 mg/g FM, and galocatequin gallate 0.5 mg/g FM. Kuti and Konuru (2004) analyzed raw and boiled chaya leaf extracts and analyzed them by HPLC-DAD. They reported kaempferol 58.2 μg/g FM and 50.0 μg/g FM, quercetin 16.9 μg/g FM and 12.6 μg/g FM in the raw and boiled extracts, respectively. Numa et al. (2015) analyzed an ethanolic extract of C. aconitifolius leaf by HPLC-DM, finding the presence of hispidulin sulphate, eucalyptine, epigallocatechyne di-O-gallate, epicatequin di-O-gallate, acutifolin D, lignin Tiegusanin F, and coumarin fraxetin. Sarmiento-Franco et al. (2003) harvested C. aconitifolius by cutting off all the leaves first, and then allowing the young stems to reach approximately 1 m in height. The leaves from each plant were stored in plastic bags and frozen at -10°C until analysis. By this process, they determined the presence of lignin: 39.6 g/kg FM carried out according to AOAC methods (AOAC, 1980). Kolterman et al. (1984) performed a methanolic extraction of C. aconitifolius leaf and analyzed it by gas-liquid chromatography, identifying glucosidic flavonols, such as galactosidated, glucosidized, rhamnosididated and rhamnosylglucosidates of quercetin and kaempferol, and two quercetin triglycosides. Gonzalez-Laredo et al. (2003) performed methanolic extractions from the stem and leaf of C. chayamansa and analyzed them by nuclear magnetic resonance. They reported dihydromyricetin in the stem, and in the leaves, biflavonoid (3 '→ 8) -diapigenin (amentoflavone), glycoside kaempferol-3-o-glucoside (astragalin) and kaempferol-3-o-rutinoside. Figueroa-Valverde et al. (2009) examined a methanolic extract of C. chayamansa leaf using ultraviolet spectrophotometric analysis, and found the presence of dihydromyricetine, amentoflavone, rutin, quercetin, naringin, hesperidin, and nobiletin. Loarca-Piña et al. (2010) found a protocatecuic acid (0.242 ± 0.001 mg/g of extract) and rutin (2.00 ± 0.097 mg/g) in a methane extract from C. chayamansa leaf, analyzed by HPLC-DAD.
Antioxidant capacity of chaya leaf
García-Rodríguez et al. (2014) performed a non-polar extraction using ethyl acetate as solvent and analyzed antioxidant capacity using the 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) and ferric reduction activity potential (FRAP) techniques (Table 5). They reported an 11.6% inhibition by DPPH and 387.1 μmol Fe/L by the FRAP technique. Valenzuela et al. (2015) performed an infusion with chaya leaf and found an antioxidant capacity of 5.9 mM Trolox equivalents/ml infusion. In an aqueous extract, Ramos-Gómez et al. (2016) reported an antioxidant capacity of 25.5 μg/ml by DPPH, of 44.3 μg/ml by 2,2'-azino-bis(3-ethylbenzothiazoline-6-sulphonic acid) (ABTS), and 38.5 μg/ml by NO. Kuti and Konuru (2004) performed ethanolic extractions on raw and boiled chaya leaves, testing for antioxidant capacity using the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) technique, which yielded values of 15.3 μmol Trolox equivalents/g FM in the extract of raw leaves and 11.8 μmol Trolox equivalents/g FM in the extract of cooked leaves. García-Rodríguez et al. (2014) reported the antioxidant capacity in an ethanolic extract of chaya leaves using the DPPH and FRAP techniques. These authors reported a 10.6% inhibition by DPPH, and 245.0 μmol Fe/L with the FRAP technique. Also, in a hexanoic extract, they reported 0.5% inhibition by DPPH and 239.4 μmol Fe/L by FRAP. Loarca-Piña et al. (2010) analyzed the antioxidant capacity of the chaya leaf, reporting a 45.5% inhibition by DPPH, and a 95% inhibition by ABTS. They reported IC50 of 1693 μg/ml. Finally, Jiménez-Aguilar and Grusak (2015) analyzed the antioxidant capacity of a chaya leaf methanolic extract, reporting 34.38 μmol Trolox equivalents/g FM.


The most commonly used methods for analyzing antioxidant capacity are ABTS+, DPPH, ORAC and FRAP. These are highly reproducible under certain assay conditions, but also show significant differences in their response to antioxidants. The free radical DPPH (DPPH) does not require any special preparation, whereas the radical cation ABTS (ABTS+) must be generated by enzymes or chemical reactions (Arnao, 2000). Another significant difference is that ABTS+ can be dissolved in aqueous and organic media, in which antioxidant activity can be measured, given the hydrophilic and lipophilic nature of the compounds in the samples. In contrast, DPPH can only be dissolved in organic media, especially in ethanol, which is a significant limitation in interpreting the role of hydrophilic antioxidants. In both radicals, however, reductive capacity does not necessarily reflect antioxidant activity, as suggested by Wong et al. (2006), Katalinic et al. (2006) and Wojdyłol et al. (2007).
From a scientific standpoint, the best approach is to conduct a variety of tests to evaluate antioxidant capacity, since this yields a more complete and ultimately more accurate analysis. The content of the phenolic compounds and their antioxidant capacity varies from one extract to another, not only in the environmental factors, but also by the way in which the data are expressed, either in different units or in different states of the sample, for example, lyophilized, dried or fresh matter. The results also vary in that the distinct types of extractions are not usually 100% of a single solvent, but instead use different mixtures and proportions, in addition to various extraction conditions and various determination methodologies.
Future perspectives
The studies presented in this review do not enable us to clearly determine which is the best extraction method for the phenolic compounds of the chaya leaf. This is because of the highly diverse processes mentioned by the different authors, as can be seen in Tables 2 to 4. Apart from the environmental factors, there are differences in the treatment of the sample before the extraction process, such as the type and the drying conditions. There are also differences in the solvents used and in the methods of extraction and concentration of compounds. Finally, a diversity of techniques are used, and even the data themselves are quantified and expressed differently. Even so, it can be said that the greatest amount and variety of phenolic compounds was obtained with different mixtures of hydroalcoholic proportions.
Common knowledge tells us that the best drying method is one in which the conditions used to remove the water are not very aggressive with the biological material, for example, temperatures no higher than 40°C and a short drying time to avoid the degradation of the compounds of interest. Specific further study is needed to evaluate different types of solvents and mixtures of them for the extraction of phenolic compounds, where the same methodology is used for sample handling, from the harvesting of chaya leaves, the method of drying, grinding and extraction conditions, through the analysis of the compounds to create a phenolic profile. This would enable researchers to determine the best solvent for extracting certain type of phenolic compounds in chaya leaves. It would also be useful to perform the extractions from both raw and boiled leaves since it is known that the raw leaves have a cyanogenic glycoside that is eliminated by boiling the leaves in water, and this heat treatment could affect the phenolic profile.


In the chaya leaf, there is a general trend toward the presence of different phenolic groups, such as coumarin, flavonoids, phenols, tannins, anthraquinones, and flobotanins in aqueous and alcoholic extracts. The chaya plant has potential for production as food and as a medicinal plant, but the task of comparing the results obtained from the different research articles is complicated by the different processes used by each of the researchers to report the phenolic compounds and the antioxidant capacity of this plant. Apart from the analysis of different extraction methods, solvents and forms of preparation, as well as the diversity of extracted compounds, further research is also important and necessary through in vitro and in vivo studies of each type of extract in order to evaluate their biological effects on health, for example, in reducing glucose levels, or as a possible chemopreventive or chemoprotector agent against colon cancer.


The authors have not declared any conflict of interests.


Publication partially funded with PFCE-2016 resources.


Adaramoye OA, Aluko A, Oyagbemi AA (2011). Cnidoscolus aconitifolius leaf extract protects against hepatic damage induced by chronic ethanol administration in Wistar rats. Alcohol 46(4):451-458.


Adebiyi OA, Adebiyi OO, Ilesanmi OR, Raji Y (2012). Sedative effect of hydroalcholic leaf extracts of Cnidoscolous acontifolius. Int. J. Appl. Res. Nat. Prod. 5(1):1-6.


Akachukwu D, Okafor PN, Ibegbulem CO (2014). Phytochemical content of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius and toxicological effect of its aqueous leaf extract in Wistar rats. J. Investig. Biochem. 1(1):26-31.


Arnao MB (2000). Some methodological problems in the determination of antioxidant activity using chromogen radicals: A practical case. Trends Food Sci. Technol. 11:419-421.


Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC) (1980). Official Methods of Analysis, 13th ed. Washington, DC.


Awoyinka OA, Balogun IO, Ogunnowo AA (2007). Phytochemical screening and in vitro bioactivity of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (Euphorbiaceae). J. Med. Plants Res. 1(3):63-65.


Aye PA (2012). Effect of processing on the nutritive characteristics, anti-nutritional factors and functional properties of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius leaves. Am. J. Food Nutr. 2(4):89-95.


Babalola JO, Alabi OO (2015). Effect of processing methods on nutritional composition, phytochemicals, and anti-nutrient properties of chaya leaf (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius). Afr. J. Food Sci. 9(12):560-565.


Bravo L (1998). Polyphenols: chemistry, dietary sources, metabolism, and nutritional significance. Nutr. Rev. 56(11):317-333.


Cifuentes R, Poll E, Bresanni R, Yurrita R (2010). Caracterización botánica, molecular, agronómica y química de los cultivares de Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) de Guatemala. Rev. Valle Guatemala 21:34-49.


Czapecka E, Mareczek A, Leja M (2005). Antioxiadant activity of fresh and dry herbs of some Lamiaceae species. Food Chem. 93:223-226.


Del Rio D, Rodriguez-Mateos A, Spencer J, Tognolini M, Borges G, Crozier A (2013). Dietary (poly)phenolics in human health: structures, bioavailability, and evidence of protective effects against chronic diseases. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 18(14):1818-1892.


Escalante-Erosa, Ortegón-Campos I, Parra-Tabla V, Pe-a-Rodríguez LM (2004). Chemical Composition of the Epicuticular Wax of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius. Rev. Soc. Quím. Méx. 48:24-25.


Esparza-Martínez FJ, Miranda-López R, Guzmán-Maldonado SH (2016). Effect of air-drying temperature on extractable and non-extractable phenolics and antioxidant capacity of lime wastes. Ind. Crops Prod. 84:1-6.


Figueroa-Valverde, Díaz-Cedillo F, Camacho-Luis A, López-Ramos M (2009). Efectos inducidos por Ruta graveolens L., Cnidoscolus chayamansa McVaugh y Citrus aurantium L. sobre los niveles de glucosa, colesterol y triacilglicéridos en un modelo de rata diabética. Braz. J. Pharmacogn. 19(4):898-907.


García-Rodríguez RV, Gutiérrez-Rebolledo GA, Méndez-Bolaina E, Sánchez-Medina A, Maldonado-Saavedra O, Domínguez-Ortiz MA, Vázquez-Hernández M, Mu-oz-Mu-iz OD, Cruz-Sánchez JS (2014). Cnidoscolus chayamansa Mc Vaugh, an important antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cardio protective plant used in Mexico. J. Ethnopharmacol. 151:937-943.


González-Laredo RF, Flores ME, Quintero-Ramos MJ, Karchesy JJ (2003). Flavonoid and Cyanogenic Contents of chaya (Spinach Tree). Plant Foods Hum. Nutr. 58:1-8.


Grubben GJ, Denton OA (2004). Plant resources of Tropical Africa 2. Nord. J. Bot. 23(3):298.


Gunjan V, Rajkumar R, Ashok K, Lazar M (2011). Therapeutic potential of polar and non-polar extracts of Cyanthillium cinereum in vitro. J. Evid. Based Complement. Altern. Med. 2011:1-10.


Gutiérrez-Grijalva EP, Ambriz-Pérez DL, Leyva-López N, Castillo-López RI, Heredia JB (2016). Review: Dietary phenolic compounds, health benefits and bioaccessibility. Arch. Latinoam. Nutr. 66(2):87-100.


Hitchcock P, Pugh J, Larme A, Marsh G (1997). The use of traditional plant medicines for non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus in south Texas. Phytother. Res. 11:512-517.


Ikpefan EO, Ayinde BA, Gita TD (2013). In vitro comparative cytotoxic and growth inhibitory effects of the methanol extracts of the leaf, stem and root barks of Cnidoscolus acontifolius (Mill.) Johnst (Euphorbiaceae). Int. J. Bioassays 2(2):445-449.


Ivanova D, Gerova D, Chervenkov T, Yankova T (2005). Polyphenols and antioxidant capacity of Bulgarian medicinal plants. J. Ethnopharmacol. 96:145-150.


Jiménez-Aguilar DM, Grusak MA (2015). Evaluation of minerals, phytochemical compounds and antioxidant activity of Mexican, central American, and African green leafy vegetables. Plant Foods Hum. Nutr. 70:357-364.


Jiménez-Arellanes MA, García-Martínez I, Rojas-Tomé S (2014). Potencial Biológico de Especies Medicinales del género Cnidoscolus (Euphorbiaceae). Rev. Mex. Cienc. Farm. 45(4):1-6.


Johnson CE, Oladeinde FO, Kinyua AM, Michelin R, Makinde JM, Jaiyesimi AA, Mbiti WN, Kamau GN, Kofi-Tsekpo WM, Pramanik S, Williams A, Kennedy A, Bronner Y, Clarke K, Fofonoff P, Nemerson D (2008). Comparative assessment of total phenolic content in selected medicinal plants. Niger. J. Nat. Prod. Med. 12:40.


Jones P, Vogt T (2001). Glycosyltransferases in secondary plant metabolism: tranquilizers and stimulant controllers. Planta 213(2):164-174.


Katalinic V, Milos M, Jukic M (2006). Screening of 70 medicinal plant extracts for antioxidant capacity and total phenols. Food Chem. 94:550-557.


Kolterman DA, Breckon GJ, Kowal RR (1984). Chemotaxonomic Studies in Cnidoscolus (Euphorbiaceae). II. Flavonoids of C. aconitifolius, C. souzae, and C. spinosus. Syst. Bot. 9(1):22-32.


Kulathuran PK, Narayanan N, Chidambaranathan N, Halith MM, Jayaprakash S (2012). Antitumor activity of ethanolic extract of Cnidoscolus chayamansa Mc. Vaugh against Dalton's ascitic lymphoma in mice. Int. J. Pharm. Sci. 4(4):647-652.


Kuti JO and Konoru HB (2006). Cyanogenic glycosides content in two edible leaves of tree spinach (Cnidoscolus spp). J. Food Comp. Anal. 19(6-7):556-561.


Kuti JO, Konuru HB (2004). Antioxidant capacity and phenolic content in leaf extracts of tree spinach (Cnidoscolus spp.). J. Agric. Food Chem. 52(1):117-121.


Kuti JO, Kuti HO (1999). Proximate composition and mineral content of two edible species of Cnidoscolus (tree spinach). Plant Foods Hum. Nutr. 53(4):275-283.


Kuti JO, Torres ES (1996). Potential nutritional and health benefits of tree spinach. J. Janick (Eds). Progress in new crops. ASHS Press Arlington, VA. pp. 516-520.


Loarca-Pi-a MG, Mendoza S, Ramos-Gómez M, Reynoso R (2010). Antioxidant, antimutagenic, and antidiabetic activities of edible leaves from Cnidoscolus chayamansa Mc. Vaugh. J. Food Sci. 75(2):H68-H72.


Lucky SC, Festus OA (2014). Effects of aqueous leaf extract of chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) on pituitary-gonadal axis hormones of male Wistar rats. J. Exp. Clin. Anat. 13(2):34-39.


Marchioli R, Schweiger C, Levantesi G, Tavazzi L, Valagussa F (2001). Antioxidant vitamins and prevention of cardiovascular disease: Epidemiological and clinical trial data. J. Lipids 36:S53-S63.


McVaugh R (1944). The Genus Cnidoscolus: Generic Limits and Intrageneric Groups. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club 71(5):457-474.


Miranda VL, Oranday-Cardenas A, Lozano-Garza H, Rivas-Morales C, Chamorro-Cevallos G, Cruz-Vega DE (2010). Hypocholesterolemic activity from the leaf extracts of Cnidoscolus chayamansa. Plant Foods Hum. Nutr. 65(4):392-395.


Molina-Cruz A, Curley LM, Bressani R (1997). Redescubriendo el valor nutritivo de las hojas de chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius; Euphorbiaceae). Cienc. Acción Universidad Valle Guatemala 3:1-4.


Mordi JC, Akanji MA (2012). Phytochemical screening of the dried leaf extract of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius and associated changes in liver enzymes induced by its administration in Wistar rats. Curr. Res. J. Biol. Sci. 4(2):153-158.


Musa TY, Musbau AA, Adenike TO, Abdul WO, Olatinwo, Abdulfatai AA, Monsurat OY, Bamidele VO, Taofik OS, Moyosore SA (2008). Effect of Cnidoscolous aconitifolius (Miller) I.M. Johnston leaf extract on reproductive hormones of female rats. Iran J. Reprod. Med. 6(3):149-155.


Mwine JT, Van Damme P (2011). Why do Euphorbiaceae tick as medicinal plants? A review of Euphorbiaceae family and its medicinal features. J. Med. Plants Res. 5(5):652-662.


Neveu V, Perez-Jimenez J, Vos F, Crespy V, du Chaffaut L, Mennen L, Knox C, Eisner R, Cruz J, Wishart D, Scalbert A (2010). Phenol-Explorer: An online comprehensive database on polyphenol contents in foods." Database 2010 (2010): bap024. 


Numa S, Rodríguez L, Rodríguez D, Coy‑Barrera E (2015). Susceptibility of Tetranychus urticae Koch to an ethanol extract of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius leaves under laboratory conditions. Springerplus 4:338.


Obichi EA, Monago CC, Belonwu DC (2015). Effect of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (family Euphorbiaceae) aqueous leaf extract on some antioxidant enzymes and haematological susceptibility of Tetranychus urticae koch to an ethanol extract of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius leaves under laboratory conditions parameters of high fat diet and streptozotocin induced diabetic Wistar albino rats. J. Appl. Sci. Environ. Manag. 19(2):201-209.


Oyagbemi AA, Odetola AA, Azeez OI (2011). Phytochemical investigation and proximate analysis on the leaves of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius. J. Med. Food 14(3):322-324.


Ramos-Gómez M, Figueroa-Pérez M, Guzmán-Maldonado H, Loarca-Pina G, Mendoza S, Quezada-Tristan T, Reynoso-Camacho R (2017). Phytochemical profile, antioxidant properties and hypoglycemic effect of chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) in stz-induced diabetic rats. J. Food Biochem. 41:e12281.


Rangel-Huerta OD, Aguilera CM, Martin MV, Soto MJ, Rico MC, Vallejo F, Tomas-Barberan F, Pérez-de-la-Cruz AJ, Gil A, Mesa MD (2015). Normal or high polyphenol concentration in orange juice affects antioxidant activity, blood pressure, and body weight in obese or overweight adults. J. Nutr. 145(8):1808-1816.


Rice-Evans C, Miller N, Paganga G (1997). Antioxidant properties of phenolic compounds. Trends Plant Sci. 2:152-159.


Ross-Ibarra J (2003). Origen y domesticación de la chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius Mill I. M. Johnst): La espinaca Maya. Mex. Studies/Estudios Mex. 19(2):287-302.


Ross-Ibarra J and Molina-Cruz A (2002). The ethnobotany of chaya. Econ. Bot. 56(4):350-365.


Rothwell JA, Pérez-Jiménez J, Neveu VM, M'Hiri NG, Manach C, Eisner R, Wishart D, Scalbert A (2013). Phenol-Explorer 3.0: A Major Update of the Phenol-Explorer Database to Incorporate Data on the Effects of Food Processing on Polyphenol Content. Available at: 



Sarmiento-Franco L, Sandoval-Castro C, McNab J, Quijano-Cervera R, Reyes-Ramirez R (2003). Effect of age of regrowth on chemical composition of chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) leaves. J. Sci. Food Agric. 83:609-612.


Sarker SD, Nahar L (2012). An Introduction to Natural Products Isolation. In: Sarker S, Nahar L (eds.), Natural Products Isolation. Methods in Molecular Biology (Methods and Protocols), Humana Press 864:1-25. Available at: 



Skerget M, Kotnik P, Hadolin M, Hraš AR, Simonič M, Knez Ž (2005). Phenols, proanthocyanidins, flavones and flavonols in some plant materials and their antioxidant activities. Food Chem. 89(2):191-198.


Soetan KO, Aiyelaagbe OO (2009). The need for bioactivity-safety evaluation and conservation of medicinal plants - A review. J. Med. Plants Res. 3(5):324-328.


Standley PC, Steyermark JA (1949). Flora of Guatemala Vol-24.


Valenzuela R, Morales ME, Verde MJ, Oranday A, Preciado-Rangel P, González JA, Esparza-River JR (2015). Cnidoscolus chayamansa organic hydroponic and its hypoglycemic capacity, nutraceutical quality and toxicity. Rev. Mex. Cienc. Agric. 6(4):815-825.


Vinson JA, Su X, Zubik L, Bose P (2001). Phenol antioxidant quantity and quality in foods: fruits. J. Agric. Food Chem. 49(11):5315–5321.


Wojdyło A, Oszmianski J, Czemerys R (2007). Antioxidant activity and phenolic compounds in 32 selected herbs. Food Chem. 105:940-949.


Wong CC, Li HB, Cheng KW, Chen F (2006). A systematic survey of antioxidant activity of 30 Chinese medicinal plants using the ferric reducing antioxidant power assay. Food Chem. 97:705-711.


World Health Organization (WHO) (2005). WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants Volume 4. Available at: 



Zare K, Movafeghi A, Mohammadi SA, Asnaashari S, Nazemiyeh H (2014). New phenolics from Linum mucronatum subsp. orientale. BioImpacts BI. 4(3):117-122.