Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice. Furthermore, tonight’s Image is of Dioscorea villas which is bitter, acrid and sometimes toxic therefore isn’t recommended as having food value.
As a child of the 80s and an outdoor enthusiast Crocodile Dundee was one of my favorites and aside from running out to buy the biggest Bowie knife I could find and repeating dialog in the worst fake Australian accent ever I really became determined to be able to find food everywhere. The scene where he introduced the reporter to wild yams intrigued me because I was familiar with the dish traditionally served alongside my Thanksgiving turkey. However, wild yams are not sweet potatoes and vice versa. In fact some wild yams are only valued for their medicinal uses and such is the case with West Virginia’s native yams.
Before going any further I need to point out that Dioscorea villas is considered to be an “At Risk” plant and could be placed on a protected species list. So if you’re inclined to harvest this plant please obtain them from a reputable source propagate them first in order to help the population. Also keep in mind that Forage Friday is intended to be a conversation starter and that I don’t normally cover a lot of the skills and such that goes into preparing the plants for use. Wild Yam is one such plant that requires some processing in order to yield the best results. Nearly every reference available through Google cites that Wild Yam is used as an extract and further chemically processed into medicine. Nevertheless, here’s the scoop…
As I cited earlier wild yam and “sweet potatoes” are not the same. Sweet potatoes are believed to have come here from Africa and while they have some good benefits of their own they are not the subject of tonight’s post. There are some wild yams that are true yams which are edible but they are not native yams. The native yam is the humble little plant in tonight’s Feature Image. The rhizomes are the the part that contains the benefits.
Traditionally uses seem to be based in the phytoestrogen stored in the root called diosgenin and is chemically converted into progesterone. The first birth control pills in the 60s were sourced from the native wild yam. The online sources also point out that while all the precursors for progesterone are found in the yam that this conversion doesn’t seem to happen inside the human body. Nevertheless, early Americans used the wild yam to treat menstrual cramps and issues that arise in childbirth as well as other things related to feminine health and low estrogen levels. Where those herbalists preforming the chemical conversion in some low tech way? The articles don’t say. I suppose it’s possible that they used compounds that contained a catalyst but that information appears to be closely guarded. It’s also said that the root extract was given to colicky babies but the danger is that this may have based on the effects it has on the female reproductive system. As I understand it colic can arise from multiple causes and even if some forms of colic can be treated with hormone replacement that doesn’t mean it works on all types of colic.
Science does acknowledge that wild yams may be useful for yeast infections and fungal infections. Uses that Science doesn’t seem to have explored far enough to either confirm or deny is as an antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory. I presume that those are done as a topically applied ointment.
Some studies have shown that maybe wild yam could be part of a treatment for brest cancer.
Well friends, that’s it for tonight’s very brief overview of wild yam. My instincts are that there probably is a lot that could be learned if one was able to dig deeper but such research isn’t really within the grasp of a layperson without a full lab and a team of biochemists.
Good night and be blessed throughout your days.
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