Sweet Potato Vines Do Double Duty as Decoration and Dinner

When my husband is on his own for any length of time, veggies fall off his plate. While I was traveling last week, he texted me a photo of the dinner he’d prepared—a giant steak.

Plate with steak, sautéed mushrooms, and rice.

“That’s beautiful,” I typed back, “but where are the veggies?”

His reply: “MUSHROOMS, LEAH, MUSHROOMS!” (Cap locks all his.)

No surprise, then, that I found little in the way of vegetables in the refrigerator as I contemplated preparing my first meal at home in a week.

Not keen on a trip to the store, I realized the sweet potato vines I’d trimmed that morning were available and ready to fill in as the perfect greens.

Using All That Plant

Sweet potato vine blossom.
Pretty blossoms on the sweet potato vine look like morning glories. The edible leaves are also pretty. Photo credit: Leah Nyfeler

Every winter, I receive beau coups of sweet potatoes in my CSA box. Invariably, a few languish in the kitchen counter pile and, despite our best efforts to eat every one, some spuds sprout.

In the early spring (in Texas, this means March), I plant these slips in our garden; the resulting vines form a lovely, decorative leafy ground cover and trailing addition to planters and pots. Even in the brutal heat of the summer, the sweet potato vines look good, and the big leaves provide nice shade for my mint.

By September’s theoretically cooler weather, the vines have crawled over my basil and attempted to take over the garden. So I trim. But what to do with all those vines?

In the development of my “waste not, want not” philosophy, I’ve discovered that those trimmed sweet potato leaves are a healthy, handy, and tasty source of greens.

Health Benefits of Sweet Potato Greens

Metal box planter planted with sweet potato vine, oregano, and wandering Jew.
Sweet potato vines trail down the front of my planter (center), next to oregano (right), wandering Jew (left, in purple), and aloe. Photo credit: Leah Nyfeler

According to a report from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, sweet potatoes (which they weirdly write as “sweetpotatoes”) are essentially a super food, used as sustenance for people and livestock, and in alcohol production (check it out in the “Read More Here” links).

But it’s the leaves, or tops, that really pack a healthy punch. According to the report, sweet potato greens are “rich in vitamin B, ß­carotene, iron, calcium, zinc and protein.” In addition, they are “an excellent source of antioxidative polyphenolics, among them anthocyanins and phenolics, and are superior to other commercial vegetables. The nutri­tional value of sweet potato leaves is gaining recogni­tion, as the understanding between diet and health increases.

Sweet potato leaves with their high nutri­tive value and antioxidants [are] an excellent leafy vegetable.”

What’s more, the vines continue to grow as long as the root remains in the ground, so the sweet potato vine continually regenerates as it is trimmed, providing a whole lotta fresh greens. Trust me on this.

And who am I to argue with NASA, which recommends the sweet potato as an important food source for space cultivation?

Cooking Sweet Potato Greens

Harvested sweet potato leaves with piles of vines and stems.
Harvested sweet potato greens and discarded stems. FYI: Sweet potatoes–those orange tubers–are not yams, and yams are not sweet potatoes. Photo credit: Leah Nyfeler
  • Clip the vine as you’d like; I prefer to trim from several different vines than take all of one. As long as you don’t dig out the root, the vines will grow.
  • While the leaf stems are edible, I pluck the leaves off, using only the tenderest stems (fiber!) and chucking the bigger stems and tougher vines into the compost.
  • Like other greens, a huge pile quickly cooks down to not that much, so harvest lots.
  • Treat the greens as you would spinach or collards; don’t overcook. They’re ready in mere minutes. A gentle sauté or blanching preserves the most nutrients.
  • Try raw, frozen, chopped leaves in smoothies for a green kick.

Hash with Sweet Potato Greens

So what did I make for dinner?

We (because meal preparation is a team event at Chateau Nyfeler) created a tasty hash by cooking frozen potato rounds with onions, chopped peppers from the garden, and butter in a cast iron skillet. We next browned 8 oz. of ground lamb in the skillet, adding handfuls of sweet potato tops when the lamb was done and cooking until just wilted. Using a spoon, we created four depressions in the skillet mixture and cracked an egg into each, heating until the whites were set and the yolks still runny (approximately 5 minutes).

Cast iron skillet with sweet potato greens hash and cooked eggs.
One-dish meals, like this sweet potato greens hash, are a favorite at our house. Hubby usually cooks while I prep and clean. Photo credit: Leah Nyfeler

I rolled the leftovers–such that there were–into corn tortillas for delicious breakfast tacos.

Yum.

Between my homegrown greens and peppers and miscellaneous items in the freezer, I completely avoided a trip to the store and utilized my yard trimmings.

Winner winner sweet potato dinner!

Read More Here:

Sweet potato vine blossom.

Your Next Favorite Drink is Brewed with Sweet Potatoes” by AC Shilton

“NASA Plant Researchers Explore Question of Deep-Space Food Crops” by Linda Herridge

“Nutritional and Medicinal Qualities of Sweetpotato Tops and Leaves” by Dr. Shahidul Islam, Professor ­of Plant Science

“Frittata with Sweet Potatoes and Greens” by Johnson’s Backyard Gardens

 

Plate with sweet potato greens hash and egg with caption, "Can you find the veggies in this meal?"

 

Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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