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Dioscorea villosa - L.

Common Name Wild Yam
Family Dioscoreaceae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards Edible species of Dioscorea have opposite leaves whilst poisonous species have alternate leaves[174]. Use of the fresh plant can cause vomiting and other side effects[222]. Known to cause headaches, menstrual irregularities & acne. May cause hair loss & oily skin. Avoid during pregnancy. Avoid in patients with cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate & uterus [301].
Habitats Borders of bogs, swamps, marshes, river and lake margins, creek bottoms, sandy or rocky soils, moist or dry woods, hammocks, thickets, limestone or talus slopes, roadsides, sea level to 1500 m[270].
Range Eastern N. America - New England to Minnesota and Ontario, south to Virginia and Texas.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (0 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (4 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full sun
Dioscorea villosa Wild Yam

Dioscorea villosa Wild Yam


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Dioscorea villosa is a PERENNIAL CLIMBER growing to 3 m (9ft 10in).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 6. 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 cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Dioscorea cliffortiana Lam. Dioscorea hexaphylla Raf. Merione villosa (L.) Salisb.

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Cultivated Beds;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Root
Edible Uses:

Tuber - cooked[177]. Some caution should be exercised with this plant. See 'Medicinal Uses' for more information.

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.
Antiinflammatory  Antirheumatic  Antispasmodic  Cholagogue  Contraceptive  Diaphoretic  Homeopathy  Vasodilator

Wild yam roots, and the roots of many other members of the genus, contains diosgenin[222]. 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, 254]. The roots are anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, cholagogue, diaphoretic and vasodilator[165, 238]. They are also a visceral relaxant[165]. This plant affords one of the best and fastest cures for bilious colic, it is especially helpful in treating the nausea of pregnant women[4] and has been used to ease the pain of childbirth[257]. It is also taken internally in the treatment of arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, gall bladder complaints, painful menstruation etc[238]. The root is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use[238]. The root should not be stored for longer than 1 year, since it is likely to lose its medicinal virtues[4]. Caution is advised in the use of the this plant, when taken fresh it can cause vomiting and other side effects[222]. The root, harvested in September, is used to make a homeopathic remedy[232]. Its main use is in the treatment of infant colic[232].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

None known

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

An easily grown plant, succeeding in a fertile well-drained soil in a sunny position or light shade[200]. Prefers a rich light soil[1]. Plants are hardy to at least -15°c[238]. Plants produce tubercles (small tubers that are formed in the leaf axils of the stems), and can be propagated by this means[K]. A climbing plant that supports itself by twining around the branches of other plants[219]. This is a highly polymorphic species, some botanists dividing it up into several species[235, 270]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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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 possibly 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 a greenhouse or cold frame. Plant out in early summer when in active growth[K].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

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 :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Dioscorea alataWater Yam, Purple yam, Greater yam, White yamPerennial Climber15.0 10-12 FLMHSM412
Dioscorea batatasChinese YamPerennial3.0 4-11  LMHSNM553
Dioscorea bulbiferaAerial Yam, Air PotatoPerennial Climber10.0 9-12 FLMHSNM420
Dioscorea cayennensisYellow Yam, Yellow Guinea yamPerennial Climber10.0 10-12 FLMSNM400
Dioscorea deltoideaYamPerennial Climber3.0 -  LMHSNM222
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
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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Readers comment

CHUCK PETTUS   Sun Oct 8 2006

I farm in New York State, just above the Pennsylvania border. Winters always have at least 10 days of below zero degrees F. Occasionally, temperatures reach 30 degrees below zero. I found some roots in Virginia about 20 years ago and the plants, both male and female appear to be acclimated to my farm conditions. The plants are located in full sun at the edge of the forest. The plants climb up to about 8 feet on the trees. In 20 years, I've only seen four new growths over 50 feet from the original plantings. Originally, I established 4 sites of both male and female plants separated by about 500 feet. About 15 years ago, I planted some Dioscorea Quatranata, male/female in the same area. D. Quatranata, sprouts up about a week before the D. Villosa, but climbs only between 4 and 6 feet. D. Quatranata seeds are noticeably larger than the D. Villosa, but are much less plentiful. Some years, including this year (2006) there were NO D. Quatranata seeds. This year (2006), there appeared an abundance of/more than usual of D. Villosa seeds. Last year (2005), I planted some cinnamon vines in the same area. They also survived the winter, climbed to less than 4 feet and produced about a dozen small (1/4 inch) bulbils. This summer (2006), I'm really daring some Florida obnoxious invasive D. Bulbifera to survive the upcoming (2007) winter. I have 8 D. Bulbifera growing well. They climbed between 6 and 8 feet. One plant has 7 bulbils, largest is over 1 inch across. I have 8 D. Bulbifera in a somewhat "COLD" temperature greenhouse where winter temperatures can drop below freezing to as low as 20 degrees. The greenhouse D. Bulbifera plants climbed to about 7 feet and NONE produced any bulbils. I have 4 D. Bulbifera outside in "POTS". They also climbed about 7 feet and did NOT produce any bulbils. Can anyone help me? I'm trying to find information on nutrition and toxins in YAM LEAVES. Over the years, I've cautiously sampled some "tea" from D. Villosa leaves. The Villosa leaf tea had a very pleasant "tea like" aroma. The tea was sweetend with concentrates from white grape juice and from apples. The taste "appeared" pleasant. I've tried "once" to make a tea from D. Quatranata. I did not like the aroma or the taste. Neither aroma or taste "appeared" bad. I just didn't like it and did not pursue D. Quatranata tea.

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