Sweet potato leaves - I love them - a tender green with subtle flavour and far less oxalic acid than spinach or chard. They grow so prolifically, if I didn't eat them, they may well just take over!
Sweet potato leaves with Cranberry Hibiscus, Society Garlic and Pepino
Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) leaves are not just a survival food (well they are I suppose, because this plant is so hardy and abundant), but the leaves are actually super nutritious and delicious as well!
Have you tried them?
I use sweet potato leaves (both young and mature) in:
sauteed with garlic, ginger, chilli and coconut milk
curries - added just at the end to avoid overcooking and losing nutrients
soups - added just at the end too
omelettes - folded in the middle at the end.
salads (here I use only the young ones)
Sweet potato greens are enjoyed in many areas of the world, particularly in Asia, Pacific and Africa, but elsewhere they are typically overlooked.
How do you cook with them?
Sweet Potato Forage
They are good forage for animals too. The wild wallabies that visit my garden love them - they do a great trimming job along the terrace wall!
What animals do you feed them to?
Did you know the sweet potato leaf is healthier than the root?
Usually people know sweet potato for the lovely sweet tubers rather than the leaves, but research has shown that the leaves have 3 times more vitamin B6, 5 times more vitamin C, and almost 10 times more riboflavin than the sweet potatoes. Sweet potato leaves are high in vitamins A (a powerful antioxidant) too and have substantial amounts of protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, potassium and iron.
Sweet potato growing with comfrey, turmeric and dwarf citrus.
Sweet potatoes in my permaculture garden
In my garden I value sweet potatoes because they:
have a multiple crop - leaves, shoots and tubers
are an excellent ground cover and living mulch
provide habitat for garden helpers - frogs, lizards ...
suppress weeds with their thick growth and shading
produce biomass for composting as well as chop and drop
come back year after year without assistance
provide an abundance of edible leafy greens except in mid-winter
A spreading edible green
I allow the perennial sweet potato vine to sprawl as a living mulch under my dwarf fruit trees. It is limited in its spread by contour pathways and a terrace wall, so it cannot get out of hand.
The shoots that come over the terrace wall are the ones I eat - although every now and then the wallabies come and help me with this job too. I worked hard over the years to find a place to grow sweet potato where the wildlife wouldn’t eat it all - now we share, which is absolutely fine because it is so abundant.
Growing for tubers or leaf?
While it is a perennial plant in warm climates, if you want to harvest both the leafy greens and sweet potato tubers, it is better to treat it as an annual and dig up your tubers. Without replanting, you end up with lots of leaf and few tubers in the next season.
I have sections where I grow for the tuber, but where I want living mulch I typically allow the seat potato here to be growing jut for the leafy greens - this way I don’t need to dig up my food forest understory. However, if I get a big frost and lose it, I’ll clear it out plant fresh cuttings or tubers when it warms again.
A point of caution
A white sap comes from the stem when you cut it. It can be irritating to the skin - I’ve got tough gardeners hands and it doesn’t seem to bother me, but just something to be aware of. I suggest you wash the leaves when you take them inside and before eating just to wash off the sap before adding to a salad or cooking.