Growing sweet potatoes requires somewhere between 90 and 120 days to harvest. The slips are generally planted in May or June but are not harvested until just before the first frost. The long growing season is totally justified by the delicious and storable crop you get at the end, but some gardeners with limited space may struggle to justify allocating the time and space to a single crop. That is where sweet potato greens come into play!
Sweet potato greens are the ‘secret’ sweet potato harvest! It still amazes me how many people don’t know that sweet potato leaves and vines are edible, delicious and really really good for you.
Five Great Reasons to Eat Sweet Potato Greens
Healthy – as described above, sweet potato greens are really, really good for you.
Summer Greens – when your lettuce is bolting and your collards are looking a little heat-weary, sweet potato greens will be in their prime!
Bigger Tubers – sometimes the vines will send down roots, which will want to form tubers. Outside of the tropics we don’t have the growing season for these extra tubers to form, so it is wasted energy. By cutting back the vines you are allowing more energy to be given to the main tuber crop.
Rambunctious Vines – sweet potato vines can be quite exploratory in the garden and often need cutting back anyway, so why not eat them!
Culinary Traditions – there many culinary traditions that rely on sweet potatoes. We’ll explore some ideas on how to eat the greens below.
How to Eat Sweet Potato Greens
The young greens can be eaten raw as you may use baby spinach or kale. I often add them to berry and banana smoothies in the summer. The older leaves benefit from being cooked. I like adding the leaves to stir fries with zucchini and tomatoes, but they are also great sautéed with onions and added into an omelette.
There is an Asian tradition of cooking with sweet potato greens. Recently a woman came into our store and wanted to know what the tubers tasted like because she had only ever grown sweet potatoes for the greens!
One of the things I love to do in harvest season is pick three vegetables that I am being overrun with. I type them into google along with the word ‘recipe’. I am always amazed at the offerings, and often impressed with the results!
If you want to grow sweet potatoes for the greens alone then you’ll have more productive top growth if you add nitrogen once the plants are established.
Written by Chris Smith, author of The Whole Okra, and Executive Director of The Utopian Seed Project.