Sweet potatoes’ popularity is really taking off. After decades of being relegated to the Thanksgiving sides table and funky French fries, sweet potatoes are everywhere. If you’re interested in growing your own sweet potato vine, follow our helpful guide below!
The Humble-yet-Amazing Sweet Potato Vine
Whether you’re embracing the Paleo lifestyle or just craving something new, sweet potatoes are on the menu.
But, did you know that the leaves are edible too? Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes can be grown as a dual-purpose crop. Like beets, carrots, turnips, and radishes, sweet potato greens are an edible and delicious addition to your dinner table.
Those of us who grew up eating from grocery store aisles often have a limited palette. The truth is, there are countless delicious foods we never get a chance to try, because it’s not in the supermarket’s best interest to carry them.
Supermarket suppliers want to stock shelves with cheap, easy, and transportable foods. They also want to avoid dual purpose crops to encourage you to buy more. That’s how the system works. But in your own garden, you’re free to expand your horizons.
Growing dual purpose plants is a great way to take your garden from conventional to sustainable! In fact, dual purpose food plants can practically double your yield while filling your table with variety. Be a trend-setting foodie! Fill your garden with these types of plants and use all their edible parts to create unique meals.
Dual Purpose Sweet Potato Vine
When you think of growing sweet potatoes, you picture a field of tubers awaiting harvest, right? Plants that have to be fully grown before they’re ready to eat. That’s true if you’re just growing sweet potatoes for their roots.
But, if you’re growing your sweet potatoes as a dual purpose crop, you have a few more options. This plant’s greens can be harvested several times during the growing season, giving added efficiency to your grow bed.
Instead of harvesting your sweet potatoes once, at the end of their long growing season, you can have a continual harvest. These delightful tubers need at least 90 days of growth before they can be harvested. As a result, the long growing season can make you feel impatient at times.
Basically, you’re looking out at a field of potatoes, just sitting and waiting for fall. But once you start using your sweet potato vine for greens as well as roots, you’ll have a three-season harvest. Baby greens in the spring, fresh leaves in the summer, and both leaves and roots in the fall.
From those tender baby greens to full grown tubers, your sweet potatoes can be a consistent part of your harvest for several months.
Benefits of Sweet Potato Greens
Everyone is always touting the benefits of sweet potatoes, because they’re an amazing super food. The greens are no exception. In fact, sweet potato greens are full of unique benefits that you can’t get from the roots!
This plant’s leaves are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They offer a healthy dose of fiber, and they even provide essential fatty acids and protein. Sweet potato greens are a vegetarian’s dream. In simplest terms, they’re full of nutrients that boost energy and keep your body healthy.
Chronic Disease Defying
A few of the helpful chemicals present in sweet potato greens are polyphenols. These antioxidants are known for reducing the risk of chronic disease as well as working to reverse debilitating effects of chronic illness.
Sweet potatoes are a tropical plant, so in the summer, when your lettuce is wilting and your spinach is bolting, these greens will still be fresh and tender. So many of our summers have been getting more and more intense. Heat and humidity can feel overwhelming to you and your plants, but sweet potato greens thrive in muggy temperatures.
Yes, harvesting the greens will help you grow larger potatoes! In fact, cutting back your sweet potato vine allows the plant to put more energy into its roots. Cut back the vines, and teach your plants to focus on growing the tubers instead.
Baby Greens vs. Mature Greens
Sweet potato leaves have a mild flavor, especially when they’re young. As the leaves grow, the flavor intensifies. Many people find sweet potato greens similar to spinach in flavor, especially when they’re young. Others say the greens remind them of collards or Swiss chard.
If you’re hoping to eat your greens raw, pick them while they’re young and tender. Throw baby greens into smoothies, on top of salads, or tuck them into sandwiches. You can also chop the young greens well and mix them with potato salads or cold pasta dishes.
As the leaves mature, their flavor deepens and their texture can toughen a bit. Like collard greens or kale, your mature potato leaves taste best cooked.
Try boiling them with a bit of salt for about 5 minutes before rinsing them in cold water and adding them to any recipe that call for hearty greens. After boiling, sautee them in olive oil with lots of garlic and a little sea salt, and serve them with eggs. Or add them to stir-fries, stews, and frittatas.
Harvesting Sweet Potato Greens
You can harvest sweet potato greens anytime, once the plant is settled in and growing well. After giving your young sweet potato plants time to start spreading and growing, just head out and trim the vines every week or so.
Take the leaves off the vine, and toss the vine into your compost heap. Wash the leaves in cool, fresh water and then pat them dry.
If you need to store your sweet potato greens for a few days, keep the leaves slightly damp after washing them. Then, wrap them in a soft, cotton napkin and put them in a cool place. In fact, the veggie drawer in your refrigerator is a great place to store them.
If cleaned and stored properly, sweet potato greens can last up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
Feel free to harvest regularly from your sweet potato plants. Take care to avoid over-harvesting, though. Leave a majority of the vine to continue growing, and give the plant time to recover between harvests. You should be able to sustainably harvest at least 3 or 4 times during the growing season.
No Space? No Problem
Maybe you don’t have enough room for a small field of sweet potatoes? Well, don’t worry! Sweet potato greens grow just as well on your kitchen counter. You’ll still have to run to the grocery store for the tubers, of course, but sprouting the greens is easy.
Sweet potato vines make an adorable, edible houseplant. Simply sprout the tuber by setting an organic sweet potato in water. The bottom half of the potato should be underwater: just use toothpicks to keep the top half up above the water line.
The potato will start sending out roots. Once you have a few, you can expect to see green sprouts popping out from the top. Now, transplant the sprouted sweet potato into a pot of soil. Your little houseplant will thrive near a sunny window and produce edible leaves all year long.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to transplant your sweet potato vines to the garden if you want to grow tubers. Potted sweet potato roots rarely get big enough, or tender enough, to be eaten.
Sweet potatoes are a completely different species of tuber than regular potatoes. Never try eating potato leaves.
Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) belong to the Convolvulaceae family of plants. As a result, they’re related to morning glories and bindweed. The leaves of these sweet tubers are edible and safe.
Regular potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) belongs to the Solanaceae, or Nightshade, family. Delicious garden plants like eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers are famous members of this family. So are more suspect plants like mandrake, belladonna, and henbane.
Avoid eating leaves from nightshade plants, including potatoes, as all the leaves contain the toxin Solanine. Stick to sweet potatoes for all your leafy green needs and you’ll be just fine!
What About Yams?
Despite popular belief, yams and sweet potatoes are not interchangeable. Yams are starchy tubers, from the Dioscoreacea family. Many varieties of yam are toxic unless cooked thoroughly, while other varieties can be eaten raw.
Avoid eating yam leaves, however, as most of them are toxic. But don’t worry: most of tubers labeled as yams in America are actually sweet potatoes. Check the latin name to be certain, or look at the color and shape of the tuber. Yams don’t have the characteristic orange flesh and reddish skin that sweet potatoes do.
Dual Purpose Growing
It’s how sweet potatoes are so much more than just a tuber! Now that you know, take some time to explore all the other dual purpose vegetables that you can grow. Look into making carrot top pesto or chive blossom jelly; use horseradish leaves in your pickling, and stuff squash blossoms for fritters.
Dual purpose growing is an exciting way to broaden the yield from your garden and lengthen the harvesting season. In fact, growing sweet potatoes can extend (and even double) your harvest season year round.