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The Practical Herbalist

Dioscorides and the Yam

Pedanios Dioskurides (Dioscorides) was a first century (CE) Greek physician, possibly a doctor in the Roman army. Born in Tarus (Turkey), little is known about his life, however he did write important books on herbal medicine. His books were actively used as a medical reference for close to 1600 years and by some accounts formed the ba- sis of the work of the famous physician Galen.

While many people of today have not heard of him, Dioscorides is well known in the botanical sciences. There are many species of plants that are named after him. The genus Diosocreae encompasses the many plants of the Yam family. These tropical starchy tubers are very important to the diets of many cultures and are important in many types of herbal medicine.

Contrary to what you might think, most Americans have never eaten a yam. In the 1930's food marketing people started incorrectly identifying sweet potatoes as "yams". This misidentification has continued to this day. Modern sweet potatoes are also of tropical origins, however they are an entirely different genus and species, and chemically very different from a true yam. Sweet potatoes are Ipomoea batatas and classified as a true tuber type storage root (like other potatoes). The members of the genus Dioscoreae are also starchy tubers, but are more closely related to the grass and lily families of plants.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066