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Dioscorea batatas - Decne.

Common Name Chinese Yam
Family Dioscoreaceae
USDA hardiness 4-11
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    (5 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (5 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Dioscorea batatas Chinese Yam

Dioscorea batatas Chinese Yam


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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. A temperate or subtropical plant. It grows in forest and is cultivated from 100 - 2500 m in central and north China.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Dioscorea batatas is a PERENNIAL growing to 3 m (9ft) by 1.5 m (5ft).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 5. It is in flower from September to October. The species is 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: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


D. polystachya Turcz. D. divaricata. D. opposita. Thunb.

Plant Habitats

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. Carbon Farming - Staple Crop: basic starch.

References   More on Edible Uses

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  Vitamin C

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].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses


None known

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest  Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Management: Standard  Minor Global Crop  Staple Crop: Basic Starch

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. Carbon Farming - Cultivation: regional crop. Management: standard. The plant is heat tolerant in zones 10 through 6. (Plant Hardiness Zones show how well plants withstand cold winter temperatures. Plant Heat Zones show when plants would start suffering from the heat. The Plant Heat Zone map is based on the number of "heat days" experienced in a given area where the temperature climbs to over 86 degrees F (30°C). At this temperature, many plants begin to suffer physiological damage. Heat Zones range from 1 (no heat days) to 12 (210 or more heat days). For example Heat Zone. 11-1 indicates that the plant is heat tolerant in zones 11 through 1.) For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form - tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. Growth habit is a single or multiple shooting vine from a crown [1-2]. Herbaceous. The root pattern is a tap root similar to a carrot going directly down [1-2].

Carbon Farming

  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Minor Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.
  • Staple Crop: Basic Starch  The Carbon Farming Solution. Eric Toensmeier.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



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Plant Propagation

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].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Shu yu, Igname de Chine, Naga imo, Yama imo, Shan yao, Tsukune-imo, Yama-imo, Ch'amma, Shanyao.

Asia, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, North America, Pacific, South America, Taiwan, USA.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

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Dioscorea cayennensisYellow Yam, Yellow Guinea yamPerennial Climber10.0 10-12 FLMSNM400
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Dioscorea esculentaLesser Yam, Potato Yam, Chinese Yam, Wild YamPerennial Climber3.0 8-12 FLMSNM400
Dioscorea japonicaGlutinous Yam, Japanese yamPerennial Climber3.0 7-12  LMHNM420
Dioscorea kamoonensis Perennial Climber2.5 -  LMHNM21 
Dioscorea tokoro Perennial Climber0.0 -  LMHNM22 
Dioscorea trifidaCush Cush Yam, Sweet yamPerennial Climber3.0 10-12 FLMHSNM402
Dioscorea villosaWild YamPerennial Climber3.0 5-9  LMHNM24 
Tamus communisBlack BryonyPerennial Climber3.5 4-8 MLMHSNM12 

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


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Readers comment

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

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?

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.

Rich (webweaver)   Mon Feb 20 2006

Note diarrhoea in the UK English spelling.

dude   Mon Feb 20 2006

you spelled diarreah wrong. but its ok everyone makes misteaks.

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. [email protected]

   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

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,- [email protected]

michaels4gardens info and plant starts

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

bhaskar saikia   Thu Oct 23 2008

dear micheal porter if you have photograph of D. batatus(both male and female) please send me [email protected] this is my mail id.

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?

   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

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

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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