Chinese Yams / Dioscorea

Chinese Yams (Shan Yao)

Chinese Yams / Dioscorea (Shan Yao)

Botanical Name: Dioscoreae Oppositae, D. polystachya, D. oppositifolia, D. villosa

Called “fairy food” in China for its congenital and tonic abilities, it 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.

Below is an overview of Chinese Yams / Dioscorea (Shan Yao), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Chinese Yams / Dioscorea (Shan Yao).

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Western Name: Chinese Yams

Also Known As: Dioscorea, Diosgenin, Colic Root, Devil’s Bones, China Root, Mexican Wild Yam

Organs/Systems: Digestion, Lungs, 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 Spleen and Stomach, Tonifies and Supports Lung Qi, Tonifies the Kidneys/Stabilizes and Binds, Helps Bind Essence (Jing), Nourishes Blood/Calms Shen (Spirit/Awareness).

Medicinal Uses: 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.

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 trunks for vertical support to climb up into the trees 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 agricultural 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.

Chinese Yams (Shan Yao) Parts Most Frequently Used: Root, Tuber

Flavors/Temps: Sweet, Neutral

Caution: Considered safe used internally or externally on the skin. Not recommended if Excess Damp or Stagnation is present.

History/Folklore: The name “Dioscorea” is derived from the Ancient Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides.

It is used raw in Oriental 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, powdery and have a clear white cross section.

Dioscorea lowers blood-sugar and is therefore used to treat diabetes.

In Oriental medicine 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 foundation tonic herb for good health and development. It is rare for one herb to strengthen what is called Congenital and Acquired Qi.

Chinese Yams increase the flow of bile that can help 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. Dioscoreahas long been considered by the Chinese to be an excellent herb for promoting longevity, helping prevent cardiovascular problems, building Blood (Xue), 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. This chemical reaction is not believed to occur in the human body so taking Chinese yams will not increase DHEA and those interested in taking DHEA should avoid wild yam products marked as “natural DHEA.”

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.

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Key Constituents:

Saponins, Choline, , Vitamin C, Mannan, Phytic acid, Allantoin, Diosgenin, Mucilage, Starch, Sugar, Protein, Free amino acids, Amylase, Alkaloids, Steroidals, Tannins, Phytosterols,Diosgenin.
Did you know?


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.
Fun fact!

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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ATENCIÓN: Todo el material proporcionado en este sitio web es sólo con fines informativos o educativos. No es sustituto del consejo de su profesional de la salud o médico. Esté sano. Sea feliz. Siéntase completo. Sea libre.

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