Botanical name: Discorea spp
Varieties: Imba , Barbados ,Moonshine , St Vincent , Taw , Black Whisp, Yellow , Bitter Gashie, Hack , Lucea or Macka , Mozella , White ,Chinese , Negro , Sweet , Yampie .
Hiding under the ground in a weedy and forgotten part of the Community Garden our winter harvest was waiting.
In Spring, two years ago, a small Moonshine Yam head was carefully placed in a mound of deep loose soil, covered generously with soil, and left to shoot.
All that we had to do then was to train the emerging shoot on a large stake, we decided on bamboo as it was the only thing around. It is good to stake them when you plant them to avoid damaging the yam head.
The stake fell down and the yam was forgotten for two seasons. In the middle of winter when the massive shoots had all died down and there was no longer any visible sign of anything, it was time to hack away the weeds and start to see what had happened under the ground over that time.
Harvesting requires gently digging around the root in a similar way to an archaeological dig, being very careful not to nick or damage the skin. Once they are nicked they will rot very quickly from that spot. The pieces are followed and dug around as they are found and then extracted similar to a dentist pulling teeth.
It requires a lot of skill and patience, not to mention hard work and you are rewarded with a harvest of yam to eat. The top where the shoot was is the part you plant again and the rest is what you eat.
You can see the harvest that came from an unstaked plant, if you stake them they get bigger. Rasta Jah Blue makes it look easy, but as a tropical subsistence farmer back in his homeland Jamaica, he got plenty of experience. Yams are a staple part of the Jamaicans diet back home. They are now getting expensive and hard to get, as people move away from farming and the youth lose these valuable skills.
Yams are a top tropical and subtropical staple food plant. They are very nutritious and delicious to eat. For the novice the closest thing to a yam would be a sweet potato but they are from a completely different genus. The genus for sweet potato is Ipomoea
I encourage anyone to look for stock of these valuable food plants and grow them out, share them with like minded growers, and build up a genetic local food pool that ensures they are readily available as a food source in the years to come. It would be pretty near impossible to buy a yam head from a commercial nursery in Australia.
Yams came to Jamaica from Africa on the slave ships as they kept a long time for the voyage and their Vitamin C content helped keep the people alive. There are eighteen varieties of yam eaten in Jamaica. The favourite is the Yellow Yam of which their are two varieties. The Moonshine Yam is also grown here and known for the purple colour through the flesh.
It is impossible to carry root stock between countries now as they did in the old days, so we have to look at what we already have in our own country, find them, know their value and retain them. The indigenous elders have a lot to teach people who are willing to learn, as Australia probably has it’s own varieties of wild yams that are edible and possibly need to be prepared in a way that has been passed down over thousands of years. This work needs to be done before it is too late the information is lost forever.
Rastafarians and Jamaicans refer to yams as ground provisions as they are a staple, so high in nutrition they can be considered medicinal plants. The best recipe for yams is to simply boil them. Boiled yellow yam is a favourite in Jamaica. Another yam recipe is to simply roast it with the skin on and scoop out the flesh with added butter, black pepper and a little salt. Ital food is vital food.