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How to grow Yams? Consume this tuber and learn its benefits.

Yam is the common name for some plant species in the genus Dioscorea that form edible tubers. These are perennial herbaceous vines cultivated for the consumption of their starchy tubers in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Oceania. Yams are monocots, related to lilies and grasses. Yam tubers vary in size. People often confuse the yam and sweet potato. Although both are tubers, they belong to different botanical families -- the yam belonging to the lily family and the sweet potato belonging to the morning glory. Africa, the native land of the yam, grows 95 percent of more than 600 varieties of the crop.

Yams favor tropical and sub-tropical weather during their growing season and do not tolerate freezing. Yams are a very ancient food plant, believed to have been cultivated for more than 12,000 years. They are twining vines with shiny, heart-shaped, purple-tinged leaves and grow from underground tubers which have a brown skin and white flesh and can weigh many kilos. Vibrant green Yam leaves are heart like in shape with a pointed tip. Leaves are veined with lengthy stems that are attached to the vines of the plant. 

 Yam plant

Less bitter than most greens, Yam leaves are mild in flavor with a taste similar to that of Water spinach. Yam leaves are rich in vitamins A and C as well as riboflavin, fiber and iron. The leaves are also high in polyphenols, specifically anthocyanins and phenolic acids which are being studied for their ability to fight prostate cancer. To best preserve the nutritional content of Yam leaves eat raw or just slightly sautéed or steamed.  Yams require a fertile, well-drained soil with a high organic matter content. Plant at the beginning of summer in areas that receive a wet season. 

They will grow in full sun or semi-shade but need a trellis. Plants need plenty of water during the growing season. Yams favor loose clay soil with good drainage. Gardeners test soils and adjust pH levels to about 5.5. They plow the planting area and dig trench rows with 3 1/2 feet between them. Gardeners then add compost into the trenches and check the soil for proper drainage. Tuber crops do not grow well in overly wet soils and require loose soil to allow room for drainage and growth. Yams are sensitive to shade leading to low yields and should be grown under full sunlight. The best soils for growing yams are the sandy clay loams.

 Yam tuber

However, yams can be cultivated on most soil types once the yam holes are properly dug and filled with organic material. Organic matter improves soil structure, acts as a slow release fertilizer and allows for optimal growth of the tubers. Adequate drainage, proper aeration, a friable soil and sufficient moisture (not waterlogged) are other critical requirements for yam growth. After the tuber cuttings have lain out for one week, gardeners plant them 2 inches deep into the trenches with 18 inches between each planting. 

Gardeners lay mulch along the trenches after initial planting. Mulch keeps the ground moist without drowning the crop, protecting the tubers from extreme heat. About one month after twines emerge, gardeners place stakes into each mound at an angle to meet the stake in the adjacent mound, creating an A-frame structure for the two twines to climb and meet. The vines of yam plants are not sturdy and need support to produce high yields.

 Yam recipe

Yam leaves can be used in both raw and cooked preparations. They will work well in recipes where spinach or greens are called for. Add to salads, sautés, curries and stews. Most commonly the leaves are used in stir-fries and soups. Yam leaves are a popular ingredient in the traditional Korean dish of sautéed vegetables known as Namul. The flavor of Yam leaves pairs well with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, curry, sesame oil, onion and tomatoes.

To try out some great yam recipes, go to this site:
http://www.foodnetwork.com/topics/yam-recipes.html

Some variety of yam slightly itches the skin while cleaning and to minimize this apply some oil on your hands. Sometimes cooked yam gives throat/tongue irritation while eating. Add little curd or lemon juice or tamarind juice when cooking yam to minimize this irritation.

 Yam in West Africa

Pacu Jaya

Pacu Jaya

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