Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sweet Potato Leaves

Every once in a while you learn something about the plant kingdom that makes you stop and think, I need to grow that.

So it was with sweet potato leaves, or when I learned that sweet potato leaves are edible. At the time, I did nothing about it. But on a recent visit to One Straw Farm in Baltimore County, owner Joan Norman mentioned that she had been selling sweet potato leaves in the farmers market. She said she had heard about them at an agriculture conference from a man from Africa.

Suddenly I was not only glad I had planted sweet potatoes, but made a priority of finding some way of working the leaves onto our dinner table. The occasion finally arrived last week when I struggled to find something green in the garden to put in our newest most favorite dish, curried okra. We're still harvesting okra on an almost daily basis and this stew with coconut milk, tomatoes and potatoes (basically, anything we can forage from the garden) proved to be a perfect place to use some of the Tuscan kale we were growing.

Well, the kale is gone, but it turns out sweet potato leaves work even better . They have a mild but dense flavor that reminds me a little of purslane. They stand up very well to cooking, maintaining their dark green color and a pleasantly easy texture. As a bonus, the leaves are a good source of vitamins A and C. And like purslane, they can be eaten raw.

Being a vine, the sweet potato plant produces a prodigious amount of leaves in addition to the tasty tuber we'll be harvesting later. At one time I was cursing our sweet potatoes for escaping their bed and traveling all over the yard where I needed to mow. They've climbed up, over and around the tomato cages. Now I'm cheering them on. I say, give us all the leaves you want.

If you are making the okra stew I posted about recently, just add a heaping cup (or two) or sweet potato leaves cut into a chiffonade instead of the kale originally called for. And if you planted sweet potatoes, be happy knowing that you have an almost endless supply of nutritious leaves.

31 comments:

Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife said...

Well, you learn something new everyday, if it's a good day. Thanks for this bit of information on sweet potato leaves. They have never been my favorite vegetable. But this news certainly makes them more admirable as garden residents.

I love the sound of your okra stew too. I may just consider growing some okra next year.

Thanks!

The Baklava Queen said...

Really? That's exciting news, Ed... thanks for sharing. I might have to consider planting sweet potatoes next year... SOMEWHERE...

(I keep wanting to try your kohlrabi gratin, but my CSA basket hasn't had kohlrabi in a while. Might have to save the recipe for next year...)

Kate said...

Ok, so this has nothing to do with this particular post, but I just stumbled across your one for "Hungarian Sun Pickles". They are the BEST pickles EVER. My family makes them every summer. (my mom's family is hungarian - her parents came here just before the war.) anyway... I'm so glad you like them! Alot of people do not like them at all. my husband calls them Stink Pickles (and not in a good way). I cannot for the life of me remember how to spell their name in Hungarian, but it is pronounced like this:
Koo-vosh-osh-oo-bor-ka

They are SOOO good! In fact - I had one with lunch today!

Mark said...

any danger of harming the plant? How many leaves can you take per plant?

Ed Bruske said...

Kate, the leaves are an added bonus to a tuber that I already love. I know, sweet potatoes can be off-putting when prepared in the usual over-sweetened ways. Try the sweet potato salad that I've previously posted here, with toasted pecans and orange-maple dressing.

Jennifer, I know kohlrabi is not always so easy to find. But if people start asking for it, maybe farmers will take notice. Try using fresh turnip as a substitute in the gratin.

Kate, you are dead on about the Hungarian sun pickles. In "Pickled," the reference book whence I have replicated the recipe, they are called Uizes Uburka. In addition to the usual briny flavor, they have a yeasty taste, which may be what some people object to. The rest of us love it.

Mark, I have not seen any studies documenting exactly how many leaves can safely be removed from the sweet potato plant. My guess would be about half before the tuber production waned, but you would never be able to eat that many. From my experience, sweet potatoes are incredibly tenacious and simply grow more leaves at a rapid pace.

mrtumnas said...

Wow! I grow a slew of sweet potatoes every year. I had no idea the leaves were edible. I'm so excited! I'm gonna cook some tonight.

I wouldn't worry about taking too many leaves either. Earlier this year I had some critter or other (deer?) eat almost every single leaf off my sweet potato plot. It barely seemed to slow the growth at all.

Ed Bruske said...

Mr. T, deer love sweet potato leaves. They will eat the plant down to the nub, and the sweet potato will just continue growing. However, with all its energy focused on generating more leaves, it has hardly any left over for making potatoes.

wikiChick said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am growing sweet potatoes for the first time. I have TONS of leaves! It would be a shame not to do something with them. I can't wait to try them!

Peace Reads said...

I have had the pleasure of eating "Potato Leaf," which is a West African Stew with the leaves, hot peppers, etc. added. Great served over rice. I think they taste a bit like collards, but I am a southern girl. :)

Chuck said...

I lived in West Africa (Liberia) for four years. There were two basic kinds of greens eaten there: cassava leaf and potato greens. Cassava leaf took an enormous amount of processing to make it edible. Sweet potato leaf was cooked just like spinach, with a little meat or fish (and LOTS of palm oil and hot pepper) and served over rice. It was/is my all-time favorite Liberian dish.

Ed Bruske said...

Peace & Chuck, thanks for those African perspectives. I'd like to know more about how sweet potato leaves are prepared in that part of the world.

B. said...

Sigh. I planted sweet potatoes, a large patch, because I'd heard some Chinese acquaintances talk about how tasty the greens are. I've made maybe two or three dishes with them and just plain didn't like them. If I picked them small they were too soft, insubstantial, and mild-flavored. If I picked them big they were stringy. In my quest for summer greens here in Florida, I've also learned that my desire to eat amaranth is a bit limited as well. I suppose it just makes me appreciate our long cool season from November to March, for collards, mustards, kale, chard, and beets.

Honey Girl Kitchen said...

Thank you, thank you. Your ahead of the game. I googled 'sweet potato leaves' & you were my 1st option. I have not cooked them yet but will be very soon. I just started the 'genotype diet', sweet potato leaves are a superfood for the 'gatherer'...can't wait to try it. Gracias.

Kenneth said...

My family is actually from west Africa,(Liberia, Lofa county), my mom knows how to cook the sweet potato leaves and other dishes as well. I miss the palava saw leaves, we looked every where but couldn't find them. I heard the Chinese grow them but they are very stingy with seeds lol. But I am actually in the process of learning how to make the sweet potato greens and I am working on a recipe for it with pictures and everything. I will try to put it online if I can for anyone who is interested, just give me a few days lol.

Kenneth said...

My family is actually from west Africa,(Liberia, Lofa county), my mom knows how to cook the sweet potato leaves and other dishes as well. I miss the palava saw leaves, we looked every where but couldn't find them. I heard the Chinese grow them but they are very stingy with seeds lol. But I am actually in the process of learning how to make the sweet potato greens and I am working on a recipe for it with pictures and everything. I will try to put it online if I can for anyone who is interested, just give me a few days lol.

Anonymous said...

We plant Violet sweet potatoes and I love to eat the sweet potato leaves in salad , and the boiled water of sweet potatoe leaves I make it a Juice with lemon !

Pragma said...

I just came across this blog while searching for possible ways to cook sweet potato leaves. We also grow Okra and are glad to read that they go well together. We have been growing Okra every summer (here in Chandler AZ) for the past 4 year and after discovering a giant Okra variety - possibly of Asian origin. Our Okra plants grow to 10-12 ft in height with many branches and a main trunk diameter as much as 4-6 inches. When in full production we have to harvest twice a day to ensure that the 6-10 inch pods are not too mature. Thanks for the tips about Sweet Potato leaves we are going to try some tonight.

Anonymous said...

If you want to grow sweet potatos, get some old tires, fill em up with straw, leaves, a little potting soil, a little manure, compost, whatever organics materials. Keep the soil moist and leave em alone. stack the tires 2 or 3 high.

Lisa said...

An interesting blog. I work with NZ's largest sweet potato/kumara grower and we are trying to find new revenue streams for them. A duopoly retail system here in NZ has really depressed the prices the growers get for their product. Does anyone know:
1. What sweet potato variety are you growing to harvest the leaves? Is it part of the Ipomoea Batatas family?
2. Approx how old are the leaves when you harvest?
3. Do you have any experience with them being bitter? Some of the commercial varieties we grow here in NZ - ooh, the leaves are pretty bitter.
4. Have you ever seen sweet potato greens for sale in supermarkets there or is it more a Farmers Market product?

Thanks for any insights.
A Passionate Produce Marketer

Guna Hebbar said...

I would like to share some information about my research conducted on sweet potato leaves of the Ipomea batatas family almost 20 years ago at Tuskegee University, Alabama. The top 4" portion is ideal for human consumption which is also known as sweet potato green tips (SPGT) Tuskegee University has been doing research on SPGT since George Washington Carver's time.
SPGT are the tips of the greens which is tasty and nutritious containing omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and many other important nutrients including phytonutrients which may prove beneficial to combat chronic diseases. SPGT should be harvesed before 50-60 days of planting.
Guna Hebbar

Janice Harper said...

I lived in a rainforest in Madagascar where food was scarce, and rice and greens was our staple meal three times a day. I got so tired of greens -- except for sweet potato leaves. They were my absolute favorite, like a rich and mild-flavored spinach. The Malagasy couldn't believe we didn't eat them, and once I tasted them, neither could I.

David said...

David Fam
I live in Australia and have just harvested 1 bucket of sweet potatoes in 1 sq yard and I am keeping all the old leaves to be chopped up for my chickens and younger leaves for our dinner tonight.Having been brought up in Malaysia where sweet potatoe leaves is a favourite green in the markets, the older leaves with stems are eaten.[Only The part connected to the leaf not runners]. The stems have their skins peeled off [A bit of work here} and choppep in 2 inches lenghts and fried up with the chopped up leaves.The stems are the best part as they are crunchy with the skins peeled.Young shoots are eaten without peeling the stems.
Fry with chopped up garlick,oil and salt; chillies optional.
You can also use blackbean and chilli; spicy chilli ; sweetchilli sauce for different flavours ; Can also be used in soups as a green.We have the the white skin potatoe variety as well as the reds which is more popular. with sweet potatoes I have a reliable green through the year including a crop of potatoes at the end of the year.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i haven't tried sweet potato leaves yet, is there a difference between sweet potato and yam leaves? Also, do you eat morning glory leaves?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

not only the leaves but also the stems are edible. You will need to peel the skin first and then cut in about 1 in size. You either boil it for ~2-3 minutes and mix with vegetable oil and salt or eat raw. They are very tasty.

Cherie said...

I live in St Petersburg florida. Originally from West Africa. I grow sweet potatoe leaves in my garden. It is very delicious dish that is cooked with meat, fish shrimp etc. You eat this over rice. I have this dish atleast once a month.

Carol T Moore said...

I have friends from the orient and they introduced me to sweet potato greens. they cut the stem about two inches from the leaf....save the rest of the stem and will peel it like you'd peel at brocolli stem. stir fry it and add it on top of rice......it sure is good...they pick every leaf and the leaves keep coming. a wonderful green....i put it in my green smoothies. yummy

almostveg said...

Recently I bought a bunch of Sweet potato leaves from a farmers mkt in NYC and made a nice stir fry with garlic, chili flakes, rice wine and soy sauce. Reminded me of a restaurant dish in Malaysian Chinese restaurant. It turned out great even though I made it vegetarian. The blogger Rasa Malaysia has a nice recipe with dried shrimps.

Cena said...

I am from the Philippines and Filipinos have been eating the leaves since. We cook this with fish or just blanch it and make a salad with tomatoes and onions, salt and pepper and a little vinegar or lemon. This is very good for constipation.

Chris said...

Very interesting indeed. Just had a discussion with my hubby who declares all potato leaves to be posionous. It there a differance between sweet potato and the local potato leaves? It afterall does belong to the nightshade family which is toxic?

Angelina said...

hi, thanks for the informative blog. I eat sweet potato leaves on regular basis. few days ago, i accidentally knocked down my "blackie" and i harvest small tubers. But the leaves were abundant, and cooked with eggplant with herbs in the BBQ.

cheers,

Angelina

Mari said...

We in the Philippines have been eating sweet potato leaves ever since I can remember. When I sat foot in this country (US) in 1969 sweet potato leaves was so hard to find. Nowadays they can be spotted at all Oriental stores.

They are so easy to grow. Set your leftover stems in water and soon roots will start growing. Then put them in the ground. They are hardy.

One easy recipe is boil or steam them (the young leaves) then remove from pot and let cool a bit. Chop some tomatoes and red onions put a couple tablespoons of soy sauce then mix.