Isabella is an ardent gardener who has been cultivating the land, planting, tending, and growing all kinds of plants since she was a child.
The Amazing Greens
A short history of sweet potatoes
The sweet potato originated from South, and Central America; between the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and the mouth of the Orinoco River in Venezuela. Christopher Columbus and his party of explorers may have brought the vegetable to Europe where it spread to Asia, and its hinterland.
North Carolina is the leading sweet potato producer here in the United States. In 2016 North Carolina harvested 95,000 acres of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are sold in supermarkets across the country as a fresh root, or packaged in cans labeled Yams or sweet potato, as a requirement of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
Americans may sometimes call the sweet potato a yam because in some countries it is called a Yam; but it is not in any way related to the genus typical Yam family. Sweet Potatoes belong to the family of Morning Glory, and other ornamental plants of the same genus, like Nightshade, even if some of those might be poisonous.
Where there is a will...
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and indeed that is what happened with our sweet potato garden here in America. In Zambia, where I was born and raised, we consume sweet potato leaves as vegetables. They are tender, slightly gummy in consistency, and make a delicious side dish that we eat with our staple, nshima. Nshima is a thickened porridge popularly made with ground corn meal, cassava (yucca), millet, sorghum, rice, oats or whatever grains you can carefully grind to make a starchy meal.
Like I said in the introduction, American supermarkets are filled with all kinds of sweet potatoes, but no sweet potato leaves. In 2014, my mind flooded with memories of a childhood partially spent carousing in nearby fields, for potatoes in the ground, during harvesting. In the winter while the ground lay fallow, signs of life would appear amidst the loose dark soil, as potatoes left in the ground began to push tiny fresh green tell-tale leaves of new sweet potato vines. Those would be the potatoes we dug out gladly and ate as snacks.
I shared this memory with my then 10 years old daughter who spent the first two years of her life in Zambia, eating the starchy greens and loving them. We decided to do this together as her fifth grade science project, choosing to use the store varieties of potatoes for our experiment.
Following are the step by step instructions on how we went about doing it.
The materials you will need for this project
The choice of sweet potato roots to use for your project are numerous. Some varieties will not yield seedlings, but I am not sure which ones they are.
If you can grow greens from potato cutlets, the greens will eventually yield sweet potatoes. Be ready to reap both ways.
Buy the variety of sweet potato you like most
I love the orange fleshed sweet potato because it is sweet, tasty, and not too starchy. I planted some vines back in 2009 and reaped several large tubers with a firm succulent flesh.
When it came to choosing which potato I needed to propagate my leaf and vine from, I chose the same one because there was a possibility of reaping sweet potatoes as well.
This is the orange fleshed sweet potato. (fig 1.)
Step by step instructions
Select potatoes that have spores on their skins, it is a sign of germination, a tiny plant forcing its way out of the sweet potato; a new life.
(see picture below)
- Put the potato you select in a warm dry place where it will germinate better.
- If you keep it for a little longer, its spores will grow bigger and become more defined (see picture below.)
- You do not need to wait until the spore is as big as the one below before you can cut and plant. You can do it earlier and the plants will still germinate.
4. Choose the container you will use to propagate your cutlets. I used a plastic planter box from Home Depot.
5. Fill it with the soil you are going to use.
6. I used a special potting mix from Home Depot. It is loose, thin and fortified with soil nutrients that are appropriate for young plants.
7. Bury your cutlets in the rich well aerated and light soil; it is an environment where sweet potatoes thrive best.
(See picture below)
8. Water the cutlets soon after burying them in the ground. The moisture from the water helps the new plant take hold in the soil.
9. Do not drench the soil, just put enough water to ensure the soil is moist.
(See picture below)
10 These greens are ready to be transplanted to individual containers or a well prepared field.
(See figure 3.1 and 3.2)
Three Weeks Later !
What a bunch of sweet potato leaves look like after they are picked for consumption.
(See figure 4)
Sweet potato greens are a great source of Protein, Niacin and Calcium.
They are particularly great as a source of dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium and phosphorus.
© 2015 Isabella Mukanda
Judy Specht from California on April 04, 2016:
I had no idea you could get greens from sweet potatoes. Potatoes are easy to grow, so I imagine Sweet Potatoes would be too. Thanks for the idea.
Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on October 28, 2015:
Thank you for the hint about propagation from the vine. I'll look forward to your next hub with a recipe for sweet potato leaves. It might also adapt for our Warrigal Greens.
Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on October 27, 2015:
Hi Blossom. If you have a vine, you can cut a piece of it at a joint that is strong and bury it in the soil, it will grow. That is normally the best way people propagate sweetpotatoes (using vines). A lot of people do not know that they can propagate using sweet potatoes themselves in the absence of vines. You would not get much to cook from a single vine, unless it is long and bushy. Sweet potato leaves shrink when you cook them, like a lot of other leafy vegetables.
I have several sweet potato leaves recipes. I will share one with you soon. Thanks for the feedback.
Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on October 26, 2015:
Having lived in countries where the staple diet includes sweet potatoes, yams and taro, I often buy and enjoy them but I had no idea that the greens could be eaten. I just have one small vine growing, so I'm wondering - at what stage can I nip off some of the leaves? Also, is there a special way of cooking them?
Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on October 26, 2015:
Thanks for the feedback Alpha. It indeed is a delicacy, I hope you like it. Let me know when you get to it. :)
Kevin W from Texas on October 26, 2015:
This was a very interesting and informative article donnaisabella. As much as I love sweet potatoes, I was unaware that the leaves were a delicacy. I will have to give them a try. Thumbs up on your hub.