Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Sweet potato greens: more nutritious than the tuber. Do you eat them?




Sweet potato leaves - I love them - a tender green with subtle flavour and far less oxalic acid than spinach or chard. They grow so prolifically, if I didn't eat them, they may well just take over! 

Sweet potato leaves with Cranberry Hibiscus, Society Garlic and Pepino

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatasleaves are not just a survival food (well they are I suppose, because this plant is so hardy and abundant), but the leaves are actually super nutritious and delicious as well! 


Have you tried them?

I use sweet potato leaves (both young and mature) in:

  • stir fries
  • sauteed with garlic, ginger, chilli and coconut milk
  • curries - added just at the end to avoid overcooking and losing nutrients
  • soups - added just at the end too
  • omelettes - folded in the middle at the end.
  • vegetable eggy-bakes
  • veggie patties
  • salads (here I use only the young ones)
  • green smoothies

Sweet potato greens are enjoyed in many areas of the world, particularly in Asia, Pacific and Africa, but elsewhere they are typically overlooked.

How do you cook with them?
  

Sweet Potato Forage

They are good forage for animals too. The wild wallabies that visit my garden love them - they do a great trimming job along the terrace wall!

What animals do you feed them to?

Did you know the sweet potato leaf is healthier than the root?

Usually people know sweet potato for the lovely sweet tubers rather than the leaves, but research has shown that the leaves have 3 times more vitamin B6, 5 times more vitamin C, and almost 10 times more riboflavin than the sweet potatoes. Sweet potato leaves are high in vitamins A (a powerful antioxidant) too and have substantial amounts of protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, potassium and iron.

Sweet potato growing with comfrey, turmeric and dwarf citrus.

Sweet potatoes in my permaculture garden

In my garden I value sweet potatoes because they:

  • have a multiple crop - leaves, shoots and tubers
  • are an excellent ground cover and living mulch
  • provide habitat for garden helpers - frogs, lizards ...
  • suppress weeds with their thick growth and shading
  • produce biomass for composting as well as chop and drop
  • come back year after year without assistance
  • provide an abundance of edible leafy greens except in mid-winter

A spreading edible green

I allow the perennial sweet potato vine to sprawl as a living mulch under my dwarf fruit trees. It is limited in its spread by contour pathways and a terrace wall, so it cannot get out of hand. 

The shoots that come over the terrace wall are the ones I eat - although every now and then the wallabies come and help me with this job too. I worked hard over the years to find a place to grow sweet potato where the wildlife wouldn’t eat it all - now we share, which is absolutely fine because it is so abundant.

Growing for tubers or leaf?

While it is a perennial plant in warm climates, if you want to harvest both the leafy greens and sweet potato tubers, it is better to treat it as an annual and dig up your tubers. Without replanting, you end up with lots of leaf and few tubers in the next season.

I have sections where I grow for the tuber, but where I want living mulch I typically allow the seat potato here to be growing jut for the leafy greens - this way I don’t need to dig up my food forest understory.  However, if I get a big frost and lose it, I’ll clear it out plant fresh cuttings or tubers when it warms again.

A point of caution

A white sap comes from the stem when you cut it. It can be irritating to the skin - I’ve got tough gardeners hands and it doesn’t seem to bother me, but just something to be aware of. I suggest you wash the leaves when you take them inside and before eating just to wash off the sap before adding to a salad or cooking.

Some extra reading:



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5 comments:

  1. Hi Morag!

    Sweet potatoes serve as ground cover in my fodder forest and at the points where they spill into areas where they are not wanted, I cut off the vines and take them to the pigs, who love them. Goats love them too, and I would be surprised if cattle and horses didn't also enjoy them.

    We too eat mainly the leaves and shoots, me being far too lazy to dig out and replant, and I treat tubers as bonus surprises when I find them. The kids love a sweet potato hunt. Truly a multi-purpose and self-maintaining plant.

    Always enjoy your posts and find inspiration in them :-)

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  2. Hi Morag, I love all of these posts on easy growing annuals and perennials. I have just bought an acre in the hinterland so I will be growing a few of these when the time comes! Thankyou!

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  3. Morag
    Sounds a great idea to plant under dwarf citrus but I thought citrus with their shallow roots needed to be clear of any plants. I have a lemon with brazilian spinach, sheep sorrel and rosemary around it and the big grasshoppers attack the leaves of the lemon badly. The other two mandarin and lime have no undergrowth and no attack by grasshoppers. I remember reading that grasshoppers love sweet potato leaves. As you can tell I seem to be breeding a grasshopper paradise here. They love most of the perennial veges I grow except moringa and sweet leaf.

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  4. This is wonderful information as we are just starting out with cleaning up our few acres, and loosely planning where to plant items, so we will have a low maintenance permaculture garden in a few years. Citrus tree planting is a principal at the moment and I'm so glad that sweet potatoes will grow under these. Glad to know about eating the greens as we love the tubers.

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  5. I have been thinking i need ot trim back my sweet potatoes, thanks for the reminder.

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