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Sechium edule (Jacq.) Sw. 1800
pronounced: SEK-ee-um ED-yew-lee
(Cucurbitaceae – the cucumber family)
common names: Choko, Chayote
Sechium is derived from the East Indian name for the plant; edule is from edulis, Latin for edible. As for the common names, choko, used mainly in Australia, seems to come from a former name for the plant, Chocho edulis, and chayote is a Spanish derivative of the Nahuatl word chayohtli.
The species is native to tropical America. It is often judged as a vegetable without much taste. In Australia, its reputation was tarnished during the great depression of the 1930s, as it became a significant part of the staple diet of many impoverished families, growing so easily in back yards as it does. It was dished up in every conceivable way, even as an apple substitute in apple pies, and also found its way into what purported to be canned apple pieces. The fruit may not have much taste, but it is an excellent source of vitamin C.
As the seed does not survive outside the fruit, chokos are usually propagated by selecting a good-sized fruit and allowing it to mature until a young shoot is seen to emerge. The whole fruit is then planted by pressing it into well-prepared soil until it is half covered. Propagation may also be effected from stem cuttings. The resulting vine needs something strong to climb on, as chokos are prolific, and the vine can bear a considerable weight of fruit.
The choko vine has cordate leaves 10-25 cm wide, and climbs by means of tendrils. It bears male flowers in clusters, and solitary female flowers. The most common fruits are a roughly triangular pear shape, with a smooth green skin or with soft prickles over the fruit. There are also some cultivars bearing smooth-skinned ribbed green fruit, as well as some white cultivars with prickles. The skin is thin, and fused with the green to white flesh, and a single large flattened pit. Although generally discarded, the seed has a nutty flavour, and can be eaten as part of the fruit.
Fruit can be harvested at any time during the growing stage, and mature fruits will store for several months. Older fruit left on the vine will become hard and stringy. Regular harvesting will promote further flowering and fruiting.
The fruit is usually peeled before cooking or processing, and, as it has a sticky sap, gloves are recommended. The young leaves can be used in salads, and the tuberous roots can also be eaten like potatoes. The fruit makes excellent chutney, and can be diced and added to stews fairly late in the cooking process, where it remains solid, and absorbs the flavours of the other ingredients. Fresh slices of the fruit can be used in salads, or the slices can be fried in butter (in this case, they are generally not peeled first). Young immature fruits can be added to stir-fries or curries. It is easy to see why the plant was so fully used during the depression, and during the Secord World War when food was so scarce.
The leaves and fruits are said to have diuretic, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties, and a tea made from the leaves is believed to help dissolve kidney stones.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photograph taken in Nelly Bay 2016
Page last updated 510th February 2017