Chinese Yams / Dioscorea
Chinese Yams / Dioscorea (Shan Yao)
Botanical Name: Dioscoreae Oppositae (D. polystachya and D. oppositifolia, D. villosa)
Called “fairy food” in China for its congenital and tonic abilities, Chinese Yams (Dioscorea) is often cut into thick slices and cooked in stews. Used safely by all ages, it is especially noted for improving male and female fertility, aiding digestion, and stopping coughs.
Watch a short video, from Ann Christensen, Founder and Creator of White Rabbit Institute of Healing™ – Dioscorea (Chinese Yam) Tonifies Jing.
Below is an overview of Chinese Yam / Dioscorea, combining the best of Western Science, Oriental Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore, and a wide range of healing modalities. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Chinese Yam / Dioscorea.
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Western Name: Chinese Yam
Also Known As: Dioscorea, Diosgenin, Colic Root, Devil’s Bones, China Root, Mexican Wild Yam
Organs/Systems: Digestive, Respiratory, Reproductive
Key Actions: Digestive, Tonic, Demulcent, Antispasmodic, Anti-inflammatory, Analgesic, Relaxant
Medicinal Uses: Nausea, urinary tract infections, arthritis, cholera, menstrual disorders, cramping, morning sickness, soothing nerves, relieving pain, relaxing muscles, poor circulation, neuralgia, infertility in men and women, vaginal dryness, lowers blood cholesterol, lowers blood sugar.
Pin Yin: Shan Yao (translates as “Mountain Herb”)
Also Known As: Huai Shan Yao
Meridians: Kidney, Lung, Spleen
Key Actions: Tonifies and Supports the Spleen and Stomach, Tonifies and Supports Lung Qi, Tonifies the Kidneys/Stabilizes and Binds, Helps Bind Jing (Essence), Nourishes Blood, Calms Shen (Spirit/Awareness)
Medicinal Uses: Fertility (including improving sperm count), longevity, diarrhea, fatigue, spontaneous sweating, lack of appetite, chronic cough, wheezing, this herb moistens and is neither hot nor cold, therefore it is often used for wasting and thirsting disorder, treats spermatorrhea, frequent and scanty urination, nocturnal emissions and vaginal discharge, softens skin, calms anxiety, builds Blood.
Basic Habitat / Botany:
Dioscorea is a genus with over 600 to 800 species, making it one of the largest genera of the plant kingdom. They are tuberous herbaceous perennial lianas (long-stemmed woody vines that take root at the base of trees, using them as vertical support to climb up into the tree’s canopy for light). These plants can grow to 2-12m or more. They are mostly dioecious, with separate male and female parts. Several species, known simply as yams, are important crops, grown for their large tubers.
Native to China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, it likes tropical and warm temperate regions of the world. Particularly important as a crop in parts of Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Root, Tuber
Flavors/Temps: Sweet, Neutral
Caution: Considered safe to use internally or externally on the skin. Not recommended if Excess Damp or Stagnation is present.
Key Constituents: Saponins, Choline, Vitamin C, Mannan, Phytic acid, Allantoin, Diosgenin, Mucilage, Starch, Sugar, Protein, Free amino acids, Amylase, Alkaloids, Steroids, Tannins, Phytosterols, Diosgenin
History/Folklore: The name “Dioscorea” is derived from the Ancient Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides.
It is used raw in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) to Tonify Yin and dry-fried to Strengthen the Spleen.
The steroidal saponins found in Dioscorea can be converted through a series of chemical reactions into steroid hormones used in medicine and contraceptives.
Good quality yams are thick, firm, and powdery, and have a clear white cross-section.
Dioscorea lowers blood sugar and is therefore used to treat diabetes.
In TCM, Dioscorea is associated with the Kidney and Spleen Energetic Systems. Because the Kidney System is associated with congenital health and fertility, and the Spleen System is associated with acquired health through food and digestion, the herb is considered a foundational Tonic herb for good health and development. It is rare for one herb to strengthen what is called Congenital and Acquired Qi. It can be used raw to Tonify Yin and Dry-fried to Tonify the Spleen.
Chinese Yams increase the flow of bile which can help with hepatic congestion and gallstones.
Traditionally, yams from Henan (Huaiqing) are believed to have the highest medicinal properties and nutritional qualities. Thus, these yams are often called “Huai Shan Yao.”
Yams are usually harvested after the frost’s descent in the Chinese 18th solar term. Dioscorea has long been considered by the Chinese to be an excellent herb for promoting longevity, helping prevent cardiovascular problems, building Blood, increasing appetite, improving fertility (including increasing sperm count), and lowering blood sugar levels.
Chinese yams are sometimes promoted as “natural DHEA”. This is because in the laboratory DHEA is made from diosgenin, which is found in Chinese yams. However, taking Chinese yams will not increase DHEA and those interested in taking DHEA should avoid wild yam products marked as “natural DHEA” as laboratory-extracted DHEA is different from the full compound profile and interaction of Chinese yam within the body. The body uses DHEA to make androgens and estrogens, the male and female sex hormones. DHEA peaks in the body at 25, decreasing as you get older.
Chinese yams are considered to have gentle, though powerful, therapeutic properties and can therefore be used safely by all ages.
The vine is considered to be quite aggressive, taking over everything within reach, so be aware if you decide to plant any in your garden.
Dioscorea is a name commonly used for two plants: D. polystachya and D. oppositioflia.
Used to Produce Steroids
Chinese Yams (Dioscorea) contain diosgenin that is used to produce the steroids estrogen and progesterone in the laboratory.
Don't Eat With Carp
Not recommended to be eaten with the fish carp as it can cause an upset stomach, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
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