Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are an edible root and member of the Convolvulaceae (Morning Glory) Family. They are not related to common white potatoes, which are in the Nightshade family. The genus name, Ipomoea is from the Greek ips, meaning, “worm” as the twisting vines reminded the Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus, of worms. They are sometimes called yams, though true yams are native to West Africa, and are rarely grown or available in the US. What is sold as yams in North America is usually sweet potato. They are native to the West Indies, Southern US and Central America.
Sweet potatoes are alkalinizing, sweet, and warming. They are considered an energy, lung, stomach, spleen, and kidney yin tonic. They increase milk production in nursing mothers and are an excellent food for those that do heavy muscular activity, as they enhance strength. Easy to digest, they are used to treat ulcers and inflamed colon conditions. They have long been used to improve anemia, constipation, diarrhea, dysentery, poor circulation, hemorrhoids high blood pressure, mastitis, and premature ejaculation. Eating sweet, nutritionally dense foods like sweet potatoes can help curb one’s desire for refined sugar.
Sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, vitamins B1, B6, niacin, C, E, as well as calcium, iron, potassium, and carbohydrates. In a Japanese study of twenty-eight fruits and vegetables tested for binding with cholesterol and lowering it, sweet potatoes ranked number one. Eating beta-carotene rich foods can help prevent cataracts and promote healthy night vision. Beta-carotene is also helpful in preventing heart disease, strokes, cancers; especially bladder, lung, breast, cervical, and ovarian Sweet potatoes also contain protease inhibitors, which inhibit the formation of cancer cells according to many studies. They also contain a substance called phytochelatins, which help bind with heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and copper and carry them out of the body. In fold medicine, if a child accidentally swallowed a coin, sweet potatoes would be given to stick to the object and carry it out of its system more easily.
Look for firm, smooth skinned sweet potatoes. The brighter and darker the color, the higher the beta-carotene content. They are thin skinned and can be scrubbed instead of peeled. However, commercial sweet potatoes are often waxed. Store in a cool, dark, dry environment, Bad spots can cause the entire vegetable to taste unpleasant.
They can be enjoyed, sliced raw, grated into salads, pureed, pies, puddings, and soups.