Wild Yam Herbal Use and Medicinal Properties
Wild Yam is edible and medicinal, though said to be bland, when cooked with seasoning it is tasty. Used for centuries as a medicinal herb by the Aztec and Myan peoples for a wide range of ailments including many female problems and to relieve the pain of child birth. Research indicates that this is a powerful alternative medicine containing many steroidal saponins, mainly Dioscin which is widely used to manufacture progesterone and other steroid drugs used as contraceptives and in the treatment of various disorders of the genitary organs as well as in other diseases such as asthma and arthritis. Other constituents Phytosterols (beta-sitosterol), alkaloids and Tannins make this plant useful as an antiinflammatory, antispasmodic, cholagogue, diaphoretic and vasodilator. A decoction of the root is used to alleviate many of the symptoms of menopause and PMS such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, and vaginal dryness. It is also used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, gall bladder complaints, spasmodic cramps, painful menstruation, and in small doses is especially helpful in treating the nausea of pregnant women.
Other Names: Colic-root, Devil's-bones, Rheumatism Root, Wilde Yamwurzel
Dioscorea Villosa, Dioscorea batatas
Wild Yam Habitat and Description
Wild Yam is a perennial climbing vine native to Eastern N. America from New England to Minnesota and Ontario, south to Florida and Texas. Most common in the central and southern United States Wild Yam is found growing in damp woods and swamps, thickets, roadside fences and hedges.
The plant is a trailing vine climbing over adjacent shrubs and bushes, growing to a length of 15 feet or more with a smooth, reddish-brown stem and heart-shaped long petioled leaves from 2 to 6 inches long and 1 to 4 inches wide. Leaves have very prominent veins which run lengthwise from the center top of the heart shape out into a fan pattern. They are usually alternate, but sometimes grow in twos and fours near the base of the plant. The root runs horizontally beneath the surface of the ground, it is long, branched, crooked, and woody, forming tubers which are light brown outside and white fibrous inside. The small, greenish-yellow flowers are produced in drooping clusters about 3 to 6 inches long (male) and in drooping, spike-like heads (female), blooming from June to August. Gather tubers and roots in fall, dry for later herb use. Not to be stored for longer than 1 year.
How to Grow Wild Yam
Wild Yam cultivation is easy from root cuttings taken in the winter or late fall. Tubercles or baby tubers can be found in the leaf axils in late summer and early autumn. These should be taken when about pea size and easily fall away from the vine. They should be planted immediately in individual pots and kept inside till spring. Wild yam prefers sandy to loamy medium, well-drained, moist soils and requires partial shade.
Wild Yam Recipe
Decoction: Place 8oz. chopped root in nonmetallic sauce pan, cover with water and bring to boil, reduce heat simmer for 20 to 30 min. Strain and store in refrigerator. Take in cup doses twice a day.
Karen's Comments about Wild Yam "Although common in the woodlands in my part of Middle Tennessee; Wild Yam is listed as endangered by United Plant Savers and should never be harvested from natural habitat. In my experience wild yam rootlets planted in pots immediately after harvesting from destroyed forest habitat will die back within a dew days. However if kept in gallon pots with potting soil in shade and watered every other day they will spring back up after about three weeks."
"Conservation of habitat is needed to ensure the future of our wild medicinal plants. Also of interest is another yam species used in Chinese medicine, Dioscoreaceae batatas is considered a noxious weed in Tennessee and thrives in full sun and spreads like an ivy. It puts on little potato like tubers in fall that hang in bunches from the stem, from that comes the common name of "air potatoes". They are edible and actually quite tasty. I learned of its use in Chinese medicine from Joe Hollis at the Long Hungry Creek Herb Conference in October of 99. I love this plant simply for its beautiful appearance in my shade garden." K Bergeron
Article by Deb Jackson & Karen Bergeron