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Dioscorea batatas - Decne.                
Common Name Chinese Yam
Family Dioscoreaceae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards Edible species of Dioscorea have opposite leaves whilst poisonous species have alternate leaves[174].
Habitats Found in an apparently wild situation in valleys and on the slopes of hills in China[147]. Prefers sunny slopes in the wild[254].
Range Temperate E. Asia, though the exact range is not known.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun

Dioscorea batatas Decne. is a synonym of Dioscorea polystachya Turcz. Can be invasive if left unchecked. It invades open to shady areas in the Eastern United States and likely similar climate zones.

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Dioscorea batatas is a PERENNIAL growing to 3 m (9ft) by 1.5 m (5ft).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5. It is in flower from Sep to October. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required)The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Synonyms Dioscorea divaricata. Dioscorea opposita. Thunb.
Dioscorea batatas Chinese Yam

Dioscorea batatas Chinese Yam
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Fruit;  Root.
Edible Uses:

Tuber - cooked[1, 46, 61, 105]. A floury texture[27] with a very pleasant flavour that is rather like a potato[K]. The tubers can be boiled, baked, fried, mashed, grated and added to soups[183]. They store well and for a long time[27, 37] and can also be left in the ground and harvested as required in the winter[K]. This is a top quality root crop, very suitable for use as a staple food[K]. An arrowroot can be extracted from the root[46], though this is not as good at binding other foods as the starch from D. japonica[183]. The root contains about 20% starch. 75% water, 0.1% vitamin B1, 10 - 15 mg% vitamin C[174]. Fruit. A starchy flavour, it is said to be very good for the health[206]. We wonder if this report is referring to the tubercles[K]. We've heard the aerial tubers can be eaten and are very tasty.
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Anthelmintic;  Antidote;  Contraceptive;  Digestive;  Miscellany.

The Chinese yam, called Shan Yao in Chinese herbalism, is a sweet soothing herb that stimulates the stomach and spleen and has a tonic effect on the lungs and kidneys[238]. The tuber contains allantoin, a cell-proliferant that speeds the healing process[238]. The root is an ingredient of "The herb of eight ingredients", traditionally prescribed in Chinese herbalism to treat hyperthyroidism, nephritis and diabetes[254]. The tuber is anthelmintic, digestive and gently tonic[116, 147, 218, 254]. It is used internally in the treatment of tiredness, weight loss, poor appetite, poor digestion, chronic diarrhoea, asthma, dry coughs, frequent or uncontrollable urination, diabetes and emotional instability[238]. It is applied externally to ulcers, boils and abscesses[218, 238]. The tubers are harvested in the autumn and can be used raw or baked[238]. The leaf juice is used to treat snakebites and scorpion stings[218]. The roots of most, if not all, members of this genus, contains diosgenin[222, 240]. This is widely used in modern medicine in order to manufacture progesterone and other steroid drugs. These are used as contraceptives and in the treatment of various disorders of the genitary organs as well as in a host of other diseases such as asthma and arthritis[222].
Other Uses

None known
Cultivation details                                         
An easily grown plant, succeeding in a fertile well-drained soil in a sunny position or light shade[27, 37, 200], though it is best in full sun[160]. Plants are hardy to at least -18°c[160]. This species of yam is much cultivated in China for its edible root which can be up to 1 metre long[1]. It has a great potential to be a commercial crop in Britain, though a satisfactory method of harvesting the root needs to be found[K]. Plants take 3 - 4 years to reach full maturity[160], though one year roots of well grown plants can weigh more than 500g. There are many cultivated forms with different root shapes in China and Japan[174]. The yam is a climbing plant that supports itself by twining around the branches of other plants[219]. It can be grown successfully into small bushes or, perhaps simpler when being grown as a root crop, it can be grown up a frame in a similar manner to growing runner beans[K]. Plants produce tubercles (small tubers that are formed in the leaf axils of the stems), and can be propagated by this means[K]. The small white flowers have a pleasant scent of cinnamon[219]. There is some confusion over the correct name for this species. One report says that D. batatas is an invalid name that is often erroneously applied to two distinct species D. opposita and D. japonica[218]. The Flora of China accepts D. batatas as a synonym for D. polystachya[266]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
Seed - sow March to April in a sunny position in a warm greenhouse and only just cover. It germinates in 1 - 3 weeks at 20°c[175]. Prick out the seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow on in a greenhouse for their first year. Plant out in late spring as the plant comes into new growth. Basal stem cuttings in the summer[37]. Division in the dormant season, never when in growth[1]. The plant will often produce a number of shoots, the top 5 - 10 cm of the root below each shoot can be potted up to form a new plant whilst the lower part of the root can be eaten[K]. Tubercles (baby tubers) are formed in the leaf axils. These are harvested in late summer and early autumn when about the size of a pea and coming away easily from the plant. They should be potted up immediately in individual pots in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame, covering them with about 10mm of soil. Protect them from mice etc and keep the soil moist but not wet. They should come into growth in the spring, plant them out in early summer when in active growth[K].
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[27]Vilmorin. A. The Vegetable Garden.
A reprint of a nineteenth century classic, giving details of vegetable varieties. Not really that informative though.
[37]Thompson. B. The Gardener's Assistant.
Excellent general but extensive guide to gardening practices in the 19th century. A very good section on fruits and vegetables with many little known species.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[105]Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World.
The most comprehensive guide to edible plants I've come across. Only the briefest entry for each species, though, and some of the entries are more than a little dubious. Not for the casual reader.
[116]Brooklyn Botanic Garden Oriental Herbs and Vegetables, Vol 39 No. 2.
A small booklet packed with information.
[147]? A Barefoot Doctors Manual.
A very readable herbal from China, combining some modern methods with traditional chinese methods.
[160]Natural Food Institute, Wonder Crops. 1987.
Fascinating reading, this is an annual publication. Some reports do seem somewhat exaggerated though.
[174]Kariyone. T. Atlas of Medicinal Plants.
A good Japanese herbal.
[175]Bird. R. (Editor) Focus on Plants. Volume 5. (formerly 'Growing from seed')
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. A good article on Corydalis spp.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[206]Larkcom J. Oriental Vegetables
Well written and very informative.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[219]Grey-Wilson. C. & Matthews. V. Gardening on Walls
A nice little book about plants for growing against walls and a small section on plants that can grow in walls.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[240]Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement).
Very terse details of medicinal uses of plants with a wide range of references and details of research into the plants chemistry. Not for the casual reader.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
[266] Flora of China
On-line version of the Flora - an excellent resource giving basic info on habitat and some uses.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Maarten Warndorff Thu Dec 5 04:52:25 2002
I attach a site which contains a number of links to good sources of information on Chinese Yam. Having looked at many sites, it appears there is quite some confusion about the names. I am not sure if D.esculenta is a synonym for D. batatas. Nor is it clear to me whether the D batatas or D opposita which is the one used for medicinal purposes in China is also the same as the variety used for culinary purposes in China. Thank you for your excellent website and thorough information (though I did not yet find the answer to my question...).

Link: the Plant Sciences Group of Central Queensland Universit

Elizabeth H.
Adenike Okunlola Thu Jul 7 13:01:56 2005
i am a phD student in pharmaceutical technology. I wish to extract the starch content of chineseyam with the aim of characterising and utilising it as binder and disintegrant in tabletting. ie comparing it to the regularly used corn starch in tablet formulation.I wonder if any studies have been done on the starch extracted from the tubers of chinese yam?
Elizabeth H.
Steve Dupey Mon Jan 2 2006
R. Rugg..you sound very scientific. Witch doctors are very good for healing back injuries too, but be sure to consult your psychic about if you should see one and under which phase of the moon.
Elizabeth H.
Rich (webweaver) Mon Feb 20 2006
Note diarrhoea in the UK English spelling.
Elizabeth H.
dude Mon Feb 20 2006
you spelled diarreah wrong. but its ok everyone makes misteaks.
Elizabeth H.
Michael Porter Sat Feb 25 2006
I grow and eat this and other Yams, it is good, and easy to grow, I would be willing to share tubercles,with anyone wanting to grow them. michaels4gardens@yahoo.com
Elizabeth H.
Wed Aug 30 2006
1) Does anyone know of research showing that using dioscorea villosa in patients actually acts as a prohormone,, converting to DHEA or progesterone etc? 2) Does anyone know of research showing that use of omega 3 fatty acids has a synergistic effect on dioscorea villosa? thanks, Huber
Elizabeth H.
Michael Porter Fri Jun 22 2007
I have now grown Dioscorea batatas for 7 years, --it is a great food plant, and my offer to share tubercles with others is still good, It will grow and "make a crop" when most others fail, --I like it now more than ever, -Michael Porter,- Michael@michaels4gardens.com

michaels4gardens info and plant starts

Elizabeth H.
Sue Green Sat Aug 4 2007
DO NOT PLANT THIS!! KILL IT anywhere found outside its native range! Chinese Yam - Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant ...Chinese yam is a deciduous perennial vine native to China. It is a member of the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family. The genus Dioscorea has economic value as a ... www.invasive.org/eastern/eppc/DIOP.html - 14k - Cached - Similar pages Chinese yam: Dioscorea oppositifolia (Dioscoreales: Dioscoreaceae)Invasive Species: any species of insects, animals, plants and pathogens, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of ... www.invasive.org/browse/subject.cfm?sub=4527 - 18k - Cached - Similar pages [ More results from www.invasive.org ] Dioscorea oppositifolia (Chinese yam)The Global Invasive Species Initiative, tnc leaf · Search again. Dioscorea oppositifolia syn. Dioscorea batatas (Chinese yam) ... tncweeds.ucdavis.edu/esadocs/diosoppo.html - 5k - Cached - Similar pages Chinese Yam - Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant ...Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant Manual. Common Name: Chinese Yam, Cinnamon vine, Air potato. Scientific Name: Dioscorea oppositifolia L. ... www.se-eppc.org/manual/DIOP.html - 13k - Cached - Similar pages Chinese yam: Dioscorea oppositifolia (Dioscoreales: Dioscoreaceae)Chinese yam is an herbaceous, twining vine that often is found climbing . ... Nonnative Invasive Plants of Southern Forests - USDA Forest Service ... www.se-eppc.org/subject.cfm?sub=4527 - 16k - Cached - Similar pages [PDF] Handout 2: Sample Exotic Invasive Plant Species Notebook Entry ...File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML Handout 2: Sample Exotic Invasive Plant Species Notebook Entry. Chinese Yam (Dioscorea batatas). “Chinese Yam is a creeping and long­climbing vine that may ... samab.org/Focus/Invasive/Curriculum/5_2SampleNBHandout2.pdf - Similar pages [PDF] INVASIVE SPECIES FACT SHEETFile Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML INVASIVE SPECIES FACT SHEET. Chinese yam, cinnamon vine (Dioscorea oppositifolia). Description: Chinese yam is an herbaceous perennial vine in the ... www.naturepreserves.ky.gov/.../EC5D41C0-CD31-4D0A-B696-468BC3587BFA/0/facts_dioscorea_oppositifolia.pdf - Similar pages [PDF] Chinese YamFile Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML It is reported invasive in DC, KY, MD, MO, SC, TN, VA, and WV. Ecological Impacts: Chinese Yam spreads easily into native plant communities ... www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/invasive_plants/weeds/chinese-yam.pdf - Similar pages [PDF] Vol. 1, No. 36. Approved 10/26/2004 VEGETATION MANAGEMENT ...File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML Chinese yam. is an extremely invasive species that can invade even the most pristine forested habitats in the. southern one-half of Illinois. Chinese yam is ... dnr.state.il.us/INPC/VMG/VMG%20Chinese%20yam%20original%202004.pdf -

The Globa Invasive Species Initiative

Elizabeth H.
bhaskar saikia Thu Oct 23 2008
dear micheal porter if you have photograph of D. batatus(both male and female) please send me bhaskar.rgu@gmail.com this is my mail id.
Elizabeth H.
LaDannian Fri Nov 21 2008
I've noticed this "weed" in my gardens for decades, likes to grow and twine on sunny fences, tends to be aggressive and choking. Later in the season, I'll notice it has those kooky looking "small potatoes" up in the angles of the leaves. Folks call this Cinnamon Vine but I can't say I ever noticed much scent to it. The books also talk about it sometimes having a "giant root deep in the ground". Every few decades I'll take an hour and dig DEEP and never yet even found much of a root or tuber at all for it. So, my question is: how do I actually make a meal, get FOOD from this dang plant? Can I dig it up and replant it in a highly confined plot of dirt? Say..like within a big wooden box, and anticipating that it will form a tuber within the dirt of that underground box?
Elizabeth H.
Fri Jan 16 2009
Dioscorea batatas is a wonderful plant with a bride range of use. But there seem to exist many different varieties which produce different qualities. We are interested in gathering information and experiences (concerning cultivation, processing and food recipes) as well as different genetic material to compare them in order to learn more about this fascinating plant. Who ever is interested to share information on this plan is invited to our homepage (the page will hopefully soon be translated into English).

LichtYams (Lichtwurzel) - a dioscorea batatas project in germany

Elizabeth H.
Jim Bowen Wed Aug 12 2009
True Botanica makes a supplement derived from this plant under the name Lightroot. On their site you can read more about the medicinal properties as well as comments by Rudolf Steiner

True Botanica

Elizabeth H.
Kevin Gaw Wed Jan 13 2010
True dioscorea (Chinese yams) have a growing habit as described, twining, choking, swarming viney groups of leaves. A three year old plant can have vine growth to 10 feet Also there is a large root (hence the agriculture of the plant). This root can extend 3 ft (3year-old plant) and be branched but it typically one solid 'carrot' type main root.
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