This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The late Wm. R. Prince, of Flushing, in his fanciful advertising style, declared that in the Dioscorea"had been discovered the alimentary basis of the Chinese Empire." Whether it tills so vast a space in food product may well be doubted. Rice and chopsticks are generally supposed to furnish a pretty big part of substance to the"heathen Chinee." The plant, however, even in Republican soil, goes for a basis deep down towards the Chinese Empire. I have, in a made soil, dug tubers full three feet long, and in the largest part full four inches in diameter.
The Dioscorea is a very toothsome vegetable. Baked or boiled its flesh is white and very delicate; not exactly mealy but much softer and more pulpy than the common potato - in fact, very much of the consistency of the latter, when boiled, mashed, well mixed and buttered, and browned in its dish in an oven. My family and friends consider this immense tuber a great curiosity, and a great treat when cooked.
If one desires a patch, and is not very nice about the order of their coming, he never need plant but once. Thereafter it takes care of the business itself. From either a last year's root left undug, or from some of the little tubers which are strung plentifully along its tendrils, it gives you a crop every year. I have not failed in twenty years of an annual supply without care since my first planting.
The best way is to confine its growth to some deep, rich soil, studded with tall and stout cedar poles. There Dioscorea will climb up and festoon from one to another, with the most rampant vigor.
My special purpose, however, in this note, was to mark the peculiar fitness of this plant for many situations and duties as an ornamental climber. It is almost as comely a bloomer as the Madeira vine, and has very much its style of growth and leaf. Its flowers have a most honeyed perfume. But the Dioscorea is the more rapid grower, has larger leaves, and stretches out to greater length. Its foliage is larger and darker, and much of it wears a greenish purple hue. I think too it stands the drouth much better.
This climber has the merit over others, that when the season of leaf and bloom have gone, you can get"a good square meal" out of its deep-growing tuber. A relish for the repast is made keen and toothsome by the three-foot shaft, which you must mine along side of the Heathen Chinee, into which to slide the unbroken bulk of his "alimentary basis".
Of late there is a variety of this Dioscorea which I have not seen, growing a more rounded tuber at a reasonable depth. Of one or the other kind, I think it would pay all having the room, to try a few plants. On our rich prairie land it would yield and enormous product.