Integrative Medicine Blog
Chinese Wild Yam: A Nourishing Root
There are many yam varieties throughout the world that hold various therapeutic benefits which range from boosting the immune system to supporting fertility.
There are many yam varieties throughout the world that hold various therapeutic benefits which range from boosting the immune system to supporting fertility. One in particular, the Chinese wild yam root, dioscorea radix, or shan yao in pinyin has a few notable medicinal properties which make it popular to use in Chinese herbal formulas. As a root and a relatively sweet and sticky one at that, Chinese medical theory recognizes shan yao as being useful for nurturing the ‘root’ of our bodily organs, also known as the kidneys.
Shan yao has the benefit of ‘restraining the essence.’ This points to its aspect of supporting the root, or kidneys. The kidneys act as a foundation to our body’s complete vitality. When the kidneys are solid and strong, all other organs have a greater capacity to flourish in health. Yam also nourishes the lungs and spleen especially in cases of loss of fluids as in excessive urination, abnormal discharge, abnormal sweating, diarrhea, and weak digestion.
Taken as a porridge, shan yao is beneficial for ‘wasting and thirsting disorder’, also known as diabetes. A study published in the Archives of Pharmacological Research noted that Chinese wild yam has the capability of improving digestion by promoting the proliferation of beneficial gut bacteria in cases of hyperlipidemia and hyperglycemia. (Jeon, et al., 2006)
Coldness and dryness permeate the winter season, bringing with it the conditions such as dry cough, excessive thirst, and often fatigue. Adding to its moistening benefits, Chinese wild yam is an excellent herb for supporting the lung qi and lung yin, such as in cases of asthma or dry chronic cough.
It is only fitting that yam is so valued as a nourishing tonic within many dishes including soups and stews in the cold months during the fall and winter. One very simple way to add yam to the diet is this basic baking method of preparing the yam:
Preheat oven to 400
Cube 2 yams and cover with 2 tablespoons ofdesired fat (butter, ghee, non-gmo canola oil, coconut oil)
sprinkle 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp garlic powder
Bake until cubes are softened, about 30 minutes
1. Belanger, Charles. The Chinese Herb Selection Guide. Phytotech, Richmond, Ca. 1997. pp. 796-797.
2. Jeon JR1, Lee JS, Lee CH, Kim JY, Kim SD, Nam DH. Effect of ethanol extract of dried Chinese yam (Dioscorea batatas) flour containing dioscin on gastrointestinal function in rat model. Archives of Pharmacal Research. 2006 May;29(5):348-53.