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YACON HERBAL DESCRIPTION
Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) is also known as Palymnia Edulis, Palymnia Sonchifolia. Another name for Yacon is Peruvian Ground Apple, possibly from the French name of potato, pomme de terre (ground apple).
Yacon is a perennial plant traditionally grown in the northern and central Andes from Colombia to northern Argentina for its crisp, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots. Their texture and flavor are very similar to Jicama, mainly differing in that Yacon has some slightly sweet, resinous, and floral (similar to violet) undertones to its flavor, probably due to the presence of inulin, which produces the sweet taste of the roots of Elecampane, as well. The tuber is composed mostly of water and fructooligosaccharide.
Commonly called Jicama in Ecuador, Yacon is sometimes confused with that unrelated plant. Instead, it is a close relative of the Sunflower and Jerusalem Artichoke. The plant produces a perennial rhizome to which are attached the edible, succulent storage roots, the principal economic product of the plant. The rhizome develops just under the surface of the soil and continuously produces aerial shoots. Dry and/or cold seasons cause the aerial shoots to die back, but the plant resprouts from the rhizome under favorable conditions of temperature and moisture. The edible storage tubers are large and typically weigh from a few hundred grams to a kilogram or so.
The tubers contain fructooligosaccharide, an indigestible polysaccharide made up of fructose. Fructooligosaccharides taste sweet, but pass through the human digestive tract unmetabolized, hence have very little caloric value. Moreover, fructooligosaccharides have a prebiotic effect, meaning they are used by beneficial bacteria that enhance colon health and aid digestion.
Yacon plants can grow to over 2 meters in height and produce small, inconspicuous yellow flowers at the end of the growing season. Unlike many other root vegetables domesticated by the indigenous peoples of the Andes (ulluco, oca, and mashua), Yacon is not photoperiod sensitive, and can produce a commercial yield in the subtropics, as well.
Traditionally, Yacon roots are grown by farmers at mid-elevations on the eastern slopes of the Andes descending toward the Amazon. It is grown occasionally along field borders where the juicy tubers provide a welcome source of refreshment during field work. Until as recently as the early 2000s, Yacon was hardly known outside of its limited native range, and was not available from urban markets; however, press reports of its use in Japan for its purported antihyperglycemic properties made the crop more widely known in Lima and other Peruvian cities. Companies have also developed novel products such as Yacon syrup and Yacon tea. Both products are popular among diabetics and dieters.
Yacon can easily be grown in kitchen gardens in climates with only gentle frosts. It grows well in southern Australia (including Tasmania) and New Zealand, where the climate is mild and the growing season long. It does not grow well in New South Wales, Queensland, or Northern Territory. The plant was introduced to Japan in the 1980s, and from there, spread into other Asian countries, notably South Korea, China, and the Philippines, and is now widely available in markets in those countries. Yacón has also recently been introduced into farmers' markets and natural food stores in the United States.
Propagation roots with growing points can be planted in a well-dug bed in early spring, near the time of the last expected frost. While aerial parts are damaged by frost, the roots are not harmed unless they freeze solid. Yacon is a vigorous grower much like Jerusalem artichokes. The plants grow best with fertilisation.
After the first few frosts, the tops will die and the roots are ready for digging. It is generally best to leave some in the ground for propagating the following spring, or, alternatively, they can be kept in the refrigerator or buried away from frost until spring. While usable-sized tubers develop fairly early in the season, they taste much sweeter after they have matured and have been exposed to some frost.
Yacon leaves contain quantities of protocatechuic, chlorogenic, caffeic, and ferulic acids, which gives tisanes made from the leaves prebiotic and antioxidant properties.
YACON USES, HEALTH BENEFITS & SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE
YACON ROOT FOOD USE
Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) is a member of the sunflower family, so it has small yellow flowers, and develops large tubers like its cousins, Dahlias and Jerusalem Artichokes. The name Yacon is a Spanish derivation of the Quechuan word llaqon, which means "watery" or "water root," referring to the juiciness of the tubers. Quechua is the original language of the Incas, who spread the cultivation of yacon along the west coast of South America. Legend has it that traveling Inca messengers relied on the tubers to quench their thirst on long journeys.
Easy to grow and store, high-yielding, supernutritious and crunchy like an apple, Yacon root is one of the many vegetables coming from South America. This fruitlike vegetable has been cultivated throughout the Andes for more than a millennium. South Americans eat it as a fruit; they also use the huge leaves to wrap foods during cooking, in the same way cabbage leaves are used in Germany, grape leaves in the Mideast and banana leaves in the tropics. Only recently have North Americans begun to see Yacon in produce markets.
In addition to its distinctive flavor, a satisfyingly sweet cross between celery and Granny Smith apples, Yacon is noted for its high fiber and low calorie content. The tubers and leaves contain high levels of inulin, a form of sugar humans cannot easily break down, making it low in calories. Inulin also aids digestion and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine, while inhibiting toxic bacteria. Recent research also has found that yacon tubers and leaves are a good source of antioxidants. Yacon is an ideal food for diabetics and weight watchers, but it will make a delicious addition to anyone’s diet. Plus, the tubers only get sweeter in storage.
In South America, Yacon tubers can have yellow, orange, red, pink and even purple flesh, all with distinct flavors. Unfortunately, only one or two varieties of Yacon are available in the United States, and they are white-flesh varieties. All varieties have a crunchy texture, and the water content is high enough that the tubers can be crushed to make juice.
Yacon is delicious eaten fresh with a little sugar or honey and a bit of lemon juice sprinkled over it. (Yacon recipes often contain citrus, because acidity prevents the discoloration that results once the pared tubers are exposed to air.) Many South Americans put Yacon in a fruit salad called salpicón, because the tubers add a crunchy texture to the mix. Yacon also can be stir-fried, roasted, baked or made into pies and healthy chips. Teas made from the leaves can reduce blood sugar by increasing the amount of insulin circulating in the blood stream. Yacon syrups or powders also can be used as low-calorie sweeteners, and are increasingly available at natural food stores.
Because it is not a high-energy food, the Spanish Conquistadors ignored Yacon. It remained more or less a food of native South Americans until the 1930s. At that time, Italian botanists began breeding new vegetables with Yacon because it can be grafted to Dahlias, Sunflowers and Jerusalem Artichokes. Those experiments stopped during World War II, but scientists have begun to re-examine the old research, and are becoming aware of Yacon’s many benefits.
GROWING & HARVESTING YACON
If dahlias thrive where you live, then you can grow yacon. It thrives in just about any area that receives consistent moisture and moderate heat. The plants need a long growing season, and the tubers form in fall when the length of day shortens.
Yacon has been cultivated for so long that the flowers no longer produce fertile pollen. It must be propagated by dividing the crown (the knobby part of the plant to which the tubers are attached) found just beneath the soil's surface. Propagating yacon crowns is similar to dividing potatoes into "seeds". You simply plant each section sprouting from an "eye." You can start crown divisions indoors in very early spring or order plants. Yacon does not like temperatures below about 40 degrees, so set out your plants when it is time to plant tomatoes. These are large plants; space them about 3 to 4 feet apart in rich, loamy soil (the more compost the better) and water well during dry spells. Yacon is almost completely pest-and disease-free.
Your diet will be enriched by adding yacon to it, and so will your soil. In the same way that yacon stimulates good bacteria in our digestive system, it does the same for beneficial soil microbes. The phenomenon by which Yacon increases soil fertility is underappreciated, because we have a limited understanding of how microbes contribute to our health. The new science is truly significant.
Do not expect to harvest an abundant crop of tubers the first year, because yacon needs time to adjust to local conditions. After that, yields are generally double to triple those of potatoes. As frost approaches in early fall, put some straw around the base of the plants to protect the tubers underneath. After frost has killed the visible part of the plants (but before the ground freezes), gently lift the crowns by loosening the soil around the tubers with a garden fork. Then carefully remove the entire root system from the ground. Snap the tubers off the crowns and let them sweeten by mellowing in the sun for a couple of weeks.
RELIGIOUS USE OF YACON
In colonial times, Yacon consumption was identified with a Catholic religious celebration held at the time of an earlier Inca feast. In the Moche era, it may have been food for a special occasion. Effigies of edible food may have been placed at Moche burials for the nourishment of the dead, as offerings to lords of the other world, or in commemoration of a certain occasion. Moche depicted such Yacón on their ceramics.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF YACON ROOT
Some of the health benefits of Yacon include its ability to regulate blood sugar levels, lower bad cholesterol, help with weight loss, lower blood pressure, improve the health of the liver, prevent certain types of cancer, boost digestive health, and strengthen the immune system.
The leaves of the plant also contain a variety of beneficial organic compounds, which is why yacon tea and syrup have become valuable and sought after components to add to people's diets. In fact, yacon syrup has had a recent surge of popularity, as it is claimed to not only be a superfood for diabetics, but also for people trying to lose weight. However, the question remains: why is Yacon considered so important for our health?
Yacon syrup and powder are commonly used as healthy replacements for sugar as sweeteners in various foods. The root can be eaten raw, like a Potato or Jicama. The majority of the density of these vegetable tubes, which can grow up to 1 kilogram in weight, are fructooligosaccharides, which is an indigestible form of fructose and water. This unique quality of yacon is part of what makes it so valuable. The majority of the carbohydrate sugars cannot be digested by the body, resulting in a very low calorie level and a prevention of excess sugar coming into the bloodstream. Yacon also helps the body increase its vitamin and mineral absorption of all other foods, so while there are not many vitamins and minerals in yacon itself, it is very important for the intake of these essential components of human health. That being said, Yacon is still rich in potassium, calcium, and phosphorous.
BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS: The reason that so many people around the world have begun to use Yacon so often is its anti-hyperclycemic effects. The fructooligosaccharides in Yacon mean that the body does not absorb any simple sugars; in fact, it lowers the amount of glucose production in the liver and causes a shift to lower fasting glucose rates. This is very important for people suffering from diabetes. Research is also being done on Yacon's potential to increase insulin sensitivity in the body, yet another beneficial aspect for diabetics or for people at risk of developing the disease.
BLOOD PRESSURE: There are a number of heart-healthy aspects to Yacon, but the high levels of potassium are certainly worth mentioning first. Potassium is a vasodilator, meaning that it relaxes blood vessels and reduces strain on the cardiovascular system. This means increased blood flow and oxygenation to parts of the body that need it most, and a reduced chance of developing conditions like atherosclerosis, or suffering from heart conditions like heart attacks or strokes. Potassium also helps to regulate the fluid balance in our body's cells and tissues, in conjunction with sodium.
CHOLESTEROL MONITORING: Aside from its importance to diabetics, Yacon is also important for people who need to control their cholesterol. Research has shown that consuming Yacon results in a general lowering of fasting triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein levels. In other words, the fructooligosaccharides that compose yacon help to lower lipid levels and prevent the accumulation of "bad" cholesterol. This aids in the prevention of a wide variety of heart concerns, including coronary heart disease.
WEIGHT LOSS AID: Although this has been hotly debated in certain circles, various researchers claim that eating Yacon can help increase weight loss. Since it is not composed of starch (like most tubers), but fills you up, and has a very low level of calories, it is thought to result in overall weight loss. This can also be caused by the slight laxative effect of Yacon (perhaps due to its fiber content) and the increased satiety that people feel after eating this sweet plant.
DIGESTIVE HEALTH: While the body cannot absorb these fructooligosaccharides, it does not mean that the healthy bacteria in our gut does not find it delicious! Yacon also contain prebiotic materials, stimulating the growth and health of the microflora in our bodies. When our probiotic bacteria are well-taken care of and healthy, our body can maximize its intake of vitamins and minerals. By optimizing the absorption levels of our food, we are able to get more out of our foods, nutritionally, when we eat any other foods. Also, the slight laxative effect of Yacon reduces constipation, bloating, and other more serious gastrointestinal conditions, such as gastric ulcers and colon cancer.
CANCER PREVENTION: Research has shown that the compounds found in yacon can have inhibitory effects on the growth of cancer cells. While this research is still somewhat preliminary, there is no downside to this possible side effect of adding Yacon to your die.
LIVER HEALTH: The liver is the source of glucose in our body, so it makes sense that regulation of glucose through eating yacon would affect our livers in some way. In fact, studies have shown that proper amounts of Yacon (particularly when combined with Milk Thistle) prevent fat accumulation in the liver and maintain proper liver health and function.
YACON DOSAGE INFORMATION
There are only 7 calories in 1 teaspoon dosage of Yacon Syrup, making it an excellent sugar replacement. The recommended proper Yacon daily dosage is 3 to 4 teaspoons of Yacon Molasses each day to see weight loss (in addition to moderate exercise and proper diet). One teaspoon dose of syrup can be added to coffee, tea, a bottle of drinking water. It can be mixed with many different liquids or used in recipes as a sugar replacement. It tastes like raisins or prune juice and some prefer taking it straight out of the bottle. It can be taken with meals or before meals, but the dosages should be stretched out throughout the day, from breakfast to dinner.
Yacon syrup up to 140 mg/g fructooligosaccharides (FOS) which is around 10 grams per 70 kilograms bodyweight appears to be well tolerated. A double dosage of 20 grams FOS per a 70 kg bodyweight is associated with intestinal pain and diarrhea over the course of 120 days.
For best results, read and follow package instructions on prepared supplements. Yacon will boost your metabolism so it may tend to keep you awake at night so it is best not to wait too long before your last dosage of the day.
YACON SAFETY, CAUTIONS & INTERACTIONS INFORMATION
Although it is rare, there have been some reports of allergies to Yacon root. Furthermore, the leaves should only be used for tea, because they have been found to be slightly toxic to the kidneys when eaten directly. Other than these two small issues, enjoy Yacon, as well as all of the wonderful benefits it can bring to your health!
A good variety of yacon can be purchased here.
YACON HERBAL & RELATED PRODUCTS
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