Chipilin (Crotalaria longirostrata) is a perennial nitrogen-fixing shrub with edible leaves which is underutilized in South Florida.
Chipilin is a member of the Legume family (Fabaceae) and is native to Mexico. Most species in the Crotalaria genus are toxic. Sunhemp and Showy rattlebox are two popular examples. Showy rattlebox is considered an invasive weed it's toxic to cattle.
Growth Habit & Strategies
Speaking of invasive potential, Chipilin is banned from Australia and it has naturalized in Hawaii. I haven't seen it be particularly aggressive in my forest garden. That being said, if you choose to introduce it into your garden the responsible thing to do would be to monitor its growth and spread. Chipilin grows to about 5 feet and lives for around 6 years. Space plants at least 2 feet apart in full sun. Like many tropical perennials, Chipilin can be grown as an annual in areas with colder winters. Chipilin works well in the middle of a perennial veggie patch or as part of the shrub layer in a forest garden, fixing nitrogen to help to improve soil fertility.
When Chipilin goes to seed it will start to produce green pods. Wait until the pods turn black and you can here a rattle sound when you shake them (hence the common name for the genus, rattlepod). Take the seeds out of the pod and direct sow in ground or sow in seed trays. The germination rate from new seeds is very high. If the seeds sit around for a few months the germination rate declines drastically. The germination rate of old seeds can be improved by soaking them in warm water overnight before planting. Chipilin can also be propagated via cuttings. I like to make a couple 6 to 8 inch cuttings off of an established plant, remove and eat most of the leaves, place the cuttings in a cup of water till they root, then pot them up with a nice soil mix.
Medicinal and Nutritional information
Chipilin is a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, iron and fiber. Dried chipilin leaves are about 34% protein.
Chipilin leaves are traditionally used in Mexico as an herb to add flavor in soups, tamales, pupusas, and tortillas. There are plenty of traditional recipes on the web so just have a look if you are interested in utilizing this plant in the traditional manner. It is a bit of work prepare, as the stems are a little tough to eat and need to be removed, but once the the prep work is done, it cooks up quick. I just throw it in stir frys or soups with other greens, which turns out quite nice. The general consensus is that Chiipilin has a taste similar to watercress and spinach when cooked, which I agree with.
Chipilin is a great addition to cooked mixed greens dishes and, being low-maintenance perennial nitrogen-fixer, to a permaculture landscape.