What is Wild Yam?
Wild Yam are also known as Chinese Yam, Shan Yao (‘Mountain Yam’ in Mandarin), or Wai San (in Cantonese). Wild Yam is a popular starchy root used in Chinese cooking and Chinese medicine for its taste and many health benefits. They are grown in Henan, Hunan, and regions south of the Yangtze River in China. Traditionally those grown from Henan are believed to have the highest medicinal properties and nutritional value. Its active ingredient, Diosgenin, has many health benefits we will discuss below.
Raw Wild Yams are thick, firm, powdery, and have a clear white cross section and gooey film. Among all cooking methods, stir-fried thick yam slices and sliced yam stew are the most common. The cooked texture becomes soft, similar to a potato.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Wild Yam is known to tonify kidney and spleen. TCM believes that the kidney is the congenital origin and in charge of heredity and fertility while the spleen is responsible for digestion and absorption. The two combinations are rare in Chinese dietary therapy, therefore the Wild Yam has earned the name “Fairy Food” in China.
Wild Yam Health Benefits
1) Women's Reproductive Health and Fertility
Wild Yam is most well known to help with reproductive health including premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and infertility. Wild Yam can reduce the discomfort associated with PMS. It has traditionally been used to treat dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), as the root is thought to have an antispasmodic effect on the uterine muscles and has also shown anti-inflammatory properties. When you eat Wild Yam, you may notice that your uterine walls feel more relaxed.
There are also many benefits of Wild Yam for fertility. Wild Yam increases estrogen levels and the active compounds soothe the lining of reproductive tracts, improving your chances of conception. Diosgenin in Wild Yam interacts with the estrogen receptor sites and controls the secretion of estrogen.
2) Skin Health
Wild Yam is a common ingredient in anti-aging skin creams. Studies show that Diosgenin found in Wild Yam may encourage growth of new skin cells, which could have anti-aging effects. In a study with mice, administration of Diosgenin improved the epidermal thickness in the ovariectomized mice without altering the degree of fat accumulation. Diosgenin has also been studied for its potential depigmenting effect. Hyperpigmentation in the form on brown of tan spots on your skin comes from excessive sun exposure, which is harmless but can sometimes be seen as undesirable.
3) Digestive Health
Wild Yam can help boost digestion by improving the function of the gallbladder and the liver. Both organs are vital in the digestive process by encouraging the production of bile and breaking down food. Historically it was used to ease the passage of small gallstones.
4) Controls Blood Sugar
Wild Yam also contains a chemical called dioscoretine, which some people think helps with the regulation of blood sugar levels. In a study of mice, diosgenin extract significantly reduced blood sugar levels and helped prevent diabetes-induced kidney injury.
5) Improves Brain Health
A study in 2017 showed that people who consumed a yam extract supplement showed a higher functioning brain than those who used a placebo. The diosgenin in yams is associated with improving neuron growth and overall brain health.
Ways to Enjoy Wild Yam
1) Cantonese Pork, Carrot, and Chinese Yam Soup
2) Herbal Powder for Tea
Sources: White Rabbit Institute, Indigo Herbs, Chinese Herbs Healing, Science Direct