Botanical Name: Dioscorea species
Some common cultivars: alata, bulbifera, cayenensis, dumetorum, esculenta, opposita, rotundata, trifida.
How to grow it: There are many varieties of Yam and they are widely cultivated in mainly tropical areas of the world. Yam is a perennial tuber that will wind & twine throughout your garden if left unchecked. It forms large tubers that are usually harvested at the time the plant dies back/slows down for winter. The tubers can get massive and the foliage while you wait for them is gorgeous.
It does well in my sub-tropical climate, though most varieties thrive in the wet tropical areas of the world. There are varieties that will grow in cooler climates too – try chinese yam (D. opposita) Will grow in full sun to partial shade and due to it’s tuber system, is quite drought hardy – growth really picks up when regular rain comes.
Will respond well to fertilising & mulching, and for best results, will prefer a deep, loose soil. It will tend to grow anywhere it’s planted however.
I’ve never tried Yams in pots – they’d make a particularly attractive pot plant due to the foliage, but I’m sure growth would be somehow stunted given the room needed underground for the tubers.
Any piece of root or tuber seems to sprout, and so the plant’s very easy to propogate. Usually it will regrow after harvesting and you’ll get further crops the following year. You can also take tip cuttings early in the growing season.
A warning about Yam – some varieties might become invasive in some climates. They have caused major problems in some parts of America. It would be wise to consider this for the variety you’d like to plant in your area, as well as considering where you plant it and how you’ll prevent it becoming invasive.
Nutrition: Tubers are high in carbohydrates & potassium, also good levels of Vitamins A, & C, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium.
Using it in the kitchen: Some varieties of Yam produce airborne bulblils that are known as air potatoes. i’ve grown them but have never got around to eating them. Some people swear by them as a tasty food, while others are not so sure. Just make sure the variety you’re growing is edible raw, or they will require boiling to remove toxic substances.
The tubers can be huge and need to be peeled before eating or cooking. Some varieties need cooking and other don’t – I usually cook them.
Very similar in texture to potato, with slightly more flavour, they can be used in the same way – in curries, casseroles, soups, boiled, baked, or cooked as chips.
They’ll keep for ages in the same conditions as sweet potato – cool, dark & dry.
Yam is a great survival plant for it’s hardiness & perennial supply of large tubers.