Richters InfoSheet D6995  

Wild Yam Root Planting Instructions

Although related botanically to the edible yam or sweet potato, the roots of wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) are not eaten. They are, however, a valuable estrogenic medicinal herb. The roots were used by American natives for the labour pain, and they were made into traditional remedies for gastrointestinal ailments and asthma. The roots are a source of diosgenin, a valuable pharmaceutical raw material for the manufacture of corticosteroids and contraceptives.

Wild yam is a woodland native of the eastern half of North America, being found in woods and thickets and forest edges from as far south as Florida to Ontario and Quebec. It is a hardy perennial vine that climbs on trees reaching as much as 3 meters (10 feet). It prefers rich woodland soil and filtered or partial sun exposure.

The rootstock is the part used. It runs horizontally underneath the surface of the ground. The roots rarely exceed 1 cm (1/2") thickness.

Little is known about the optimum conditions for growing wild yam. Most of the crude drug in the botanicals trade is from wildcrafted material. Your feedback on your successes or failures is welcome so that we may share what works and what doesn’t with other growers.


Each root comes with several ‘eyes’ that can be broken off and planted individually. As many as a dozen or more eyes can be separated from one root. Or, the roots can be planted intact without separation, if the goal is to get quicker establishment of vines.

Wild yam eyes or roots may be planted anytime in fall until the ground freezes. The site should be well-drained, with humus-rich soil. Plant eyes or roots 5-7 cm (2-3") deep and 30-90 cm (1-3 feet) apart, or more if space permits. The vines will climb, so the site has to be positioned close to bushes, trees or a trellis where the vines can twine around.

Wild yam prefers moist conditions, so keep watered until the plants have reached 30cm (1ft.) and are well established. Fertilizer is not required if growing in rich woodland soil. .

Wild yam eyes can also be planted in pots or in flats and overwintered in a coldframe, and then planted outdoors the following spring.

In northern areas (USDA zones 4-6) a mulch of leaves should be applied to protect the roots from being lifted out of the ground during periods of late winter freezing and thawing..


The roots are harvested in autumn, They may be dug up in the third or later year and dried. Leave behind some roots or eyes for continuous future growth.


We welcome your feedback on your experiences. The information you provide will help us refine our recommendations to other herb enthusiasts. Please email your comments to Infosheet Feedback.


Richters Herbs
D6995   ©2001 Otto Richter and Sons Limited


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