Chinese Yams / Dioscorea
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).
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.
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.
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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