Wild yams are a perennial vine, also known by the names of the Mexican sweet potato or Dioscorea villosa. The plant originates from North America, but is also seen in the tropical areas of Mexico and Asia. It has a cultivar called the Chinese sweet potato, originating from China.
The wild sweet yam is a large twining plant with thick roots and climbing stems, reaching 19.5 ft (6 m) in height. Its rhizomes are 2″ - 4″ (5-10 cm) in diameter, with a reddish brown color.
The roots taste like starch in the beginning, after which they gain a bitter and sharp taste. The stems are numerous and do not branch off. The leaves are oval, 2 1/2″ - 4 3/4″ (6-12 cm) in length. The roots and rhizomes of both types of sweet potatoes are used to make herbal medicines.
Even back in the 18th and 19th centuries, herbalists would use the wild sweet potato to alleviate menstrual pains and problems dealing with birth, as well as for stomach pains and coughs. During the 1950s, scientists discovered that the roots of the wild sweet potato - Mexican and Chinese, contained diosgenin.
It is a phytoestrogen (plant-based estrogen), which can chemically transform into the hormone progesterone. And it was in fact diosgenin that was used to make the first birth control pills back in the 1960s. And since there are 600 varieties of this potato, it is important to note that not every type contains this phytoestrogen.
Herbalists continue to use the valuable properties of wild yams for menstrual spasms, nausea, infection, osteoporosis, asthma and others, even though some studies show that there isn't always an effect.
Which of course is quite possible, because the body cannot process diosgenin and turn it to progesterone on its own, but requires laboratory intervention.
The Mexican sweet potato is exceptionally healthy and can be added to certain main dishes, even desserts. Don't miss the opportunity to try something different.