September 2, 2022

Yam Berries

Chinese yam bulbils

Several years ago I bought some Chinese Mountain Yam tubers to plant. Chinese yams are an edible perennial that produce both edible tubers and also edible aerial bulbils, sometimes called yam berries. Then I hesitated to plant them because I read they can be invasive. They are the reason I decided to convert my hoop house to place for growing perennials. I chose one of the bordered raised beds and planted the tubers. They are a vine, so the hoop house has been a good place for them. This is the first year they've produced a significant amount of the yam berries.

Dioscorea polystachya (formerly Dioscorea batatas).
They are also called air potatoes or cinnamon vine.

There are other species of dioscorea, but not all of them are edible. According to the Plants for a Future website:

"Edible species of Dioscorea have opposite leaves whilst poisonous species have alternate leaves"

And according to David the Good in his video, "Yamberries on the Chinese Yam," the variety I planted is not the invasive one. Even so, there seems to be a lot of contradictory information around the internet on them. 

The other day, I picked all the yam berries and had enough to try for dinner.

My harvest, washed and ready for cooking.

You can see how tiny they are!

They really do look like miniature potatoes, so the name "air potatoes" makes sense. "Cinnamon vine" apparently refers to the smell of their flowers (which I wasn't watching for and so didn't notice!)

To cook, I tossed them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then I oven roasted at 425°F (220°C) for about 12 minutes.

Oven roasted yam berries

They were quite good. They're starchy, but not quite like true potatoes. Dan said they reminded him of hopniss. One of these days when I have a few more plants, I'll harvest some of the root and give that a try.

It's fun experimenting with perennial foods. They require care to establish, but once established, they are less work to maintain than annual food crops. While production varies from year to year, they are a reliable source of food whenever annuals do poorly. Plus, most of them are quite attractive and easy to work into an edible landscape. 

One disadvantage is that they aren't familiar foods. They require learning how to grow, harvest, and cook, not to mention acquiring a taste for them. We're all raised on particular foods, and those become the personal standard for our diet. We find them easily in the grocery stores and in the seed catalogues. They are our personal comfort foods of childhood.  
We ate this year's yam berry crop, but next year I'll experiment with some food combinations. I think they'd be good with cowpeas or beans, and in soup. 

Is anyone else growing edible perennials? 

Yam Berries © September 2022


Chris said...

That's so interesting Leigh. I was very interested in your experience with these interesting edibles. David the Good, is an amazing encourager to garden like your life depended on it. I've been following him for years. Though more sporadicly nowadays, as I don't have a lot of spare time.

I'm in full agreement that perennial food production is the way to go. Less work to bring to harvest, they pretty much take care of themselves if you want them to. The effort goes into establishing them.

I like to grow sweet potatoes like a perennial, but then I have the climate for that. They stop growing in winter, but the tubers are fine in the ground. When the warmer weather arrives, I get gazillions of starts from the fat tubers.

Leigh said...

Chris, sweet potatoes do well for me too, but I can't overwinter them. :(. I'm guessing David the Good's climate is similar to yours(?) He's too far south for me, but I love his videos and books anyway.

CK said...

Yeah, David is an entertaining writer, and knows some stuff about gardening. 😉 Just read my comment back though, and realised how many times I said interesting, in the first 2 sentences. 😂

Leigh said...

CK, at least you re-read; good for you! I find myself repeating words a lot too. :)

Ed said...

I guess the only edible perennials I have are fruit trees, asparagus and strawberries. Like you though, I agree they are easier to take care of once established.

Learning how to cook things is an underrated activity for sure. I look back at my youth and all the things my mom cooked now and then that none of us liked. My wife cooks all those things in different ways and they are absolutely delicious. It is to the point where if I eat something I don't care for, I don't blame the food but the preparer. Prepared a different way, I'm game to try it again.

Nina said...

The only perennial food bearing plants we have are berries, a couple of apple trees and of course the Maple trees for syrup. Those maple trees block a lot of sunlight from a good part of our property, so it's really a give and take for what we can grow. I do have perennial dye plants though, or those that reseed and perpetuate that way, so I'm happy about that.

Leigh said...

Ed, those are the all-American standards. I have to admit though, that I do get a lot of competition for the strawberries from rodents and slugs. I need to plant a bunch more.

You make a very good point about preparation; there are so many wonderful possibilities. Variety is the key to avoiding food fatigue, so finding those favorites is really important.

Nina, I love that you've got perennial dye plants, and you've got me on the sugar maples! That's one thing I really, really wish I could grow. Well, I think I could grow them, but I don't think our temperatures would cooperate for the abundant spring sap flow.

wyomingheart said...

Never heard of those berries, but they sound awesome! I love growing new food, and perfect that they grow pretty much with no fuss! Winner, I’d say!

Goatldi said...

They look like a cross between a coffee bean and a black bean. Good to know thank you for being the Guinea Pig. Don't worry about the number of times you used interesting it could have been "you know". :-)

Jean Ellen said...

I have the invasive kind everywhere in my yard. I hate them, but glad you found a use for the edible type.

Annie in Ocala said...

Most of my perennials are fruits but do have sweet potatoes and moringa and this year getting established cassava, chaya, katuk and longevity spinach. Most should come back yearly and I'm also all for things that just grow!

Leigh said...

Wyomingheart, no fuss wins every time!

Goatldi, I love experimenting! But I have to admit that I've had about as many fails as I have successes.

Jean Ellen, what a bummer! Some people say those are edible, but others say not.

I'm guessing we all have to deal with annoying plants that spread like crazy and don't go away. I sometimes remember that Geoff Lawton said, "stop hating your weeds." But when they're like that, it's hard to find anything to love about them.

Annie, you can grow sweet potatoes as a perennial? Lucky you! You have a lovely list of perennials. I wonder how many of them would grow for me.

Jeremiah said...

I bought some to start, but like you, read they can be invasive so I never planted them. They shriveled up in my basement. I’d be interested to see what you get from digging for tubers. I can’t see the berries being worth it.

Leigh said...

Jeremiah, I think the tubers are the main reason people grow them, but I've learned that both tubers and berries are popular in Asian cooking. On the plus side for the berries, they are very easy to pick and require no special preparation (like shelling or peeling).

I'm definitely curious about the tubers. But they aren't multiplying very quickly, and with only a couple plants, I'm reluctant to remove the tubers. I may see what I can find this fall!