It depends on the type. You can eat sweet potato leaves since they are edible but you cannot eat Irish potato leaves since they are poisonous.
Background Information On Potatoes
Both Irish and sweet potatoes are produced in mind-boggling numbers in America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world. This is because they are important sources of food and are eaten by billions of people across the world.
However, while both Irish and sweet potatoes produce tubers or potatoes that can be consumed, only the leaves of sweet potatoes can also be consumed. Those of Irish potatoes cannot be consumed. Why? Because sweet potato leaves are tasty and healthy (they have plenty of vitamins and minerals). Irish potato leaves are inedible because they are poisonous.
What Makes The Leaves Of Irish Potatoes Poisonous?
Irish potato leaves are toxic. Therefore, you should never try to eat them. They are toxic because they have solanine – a chemical that the plant produces to protect itself from the harsh sun.
Solanine produced by Irish potatoes is often concentrated in the leaves but it can also be found in the potatoes themselves, where it can be seen as green spots.
Solanine is toxic to humans. When consumed, its effects can include rapid heartbeat (or the opposite), abdominal pain, vomiting, and nausea. In some situations, solanine can cause respiratory failure. So when Irish potato leaves are consumed, they poison the consumer leading to the aforementioned effects.
While solanine is sometimes present in potatoes, the little quantity present is often eliminated by potato preparation methods such as boiling or frying. You will never see anyone eating them raw the way people eat some leaves/vegetables. This is why they are safe to eat.
What Makes The Leaves Of Sweet Potatoes Healthy And Safe To Eat?
Unlike Irish potato leaves, sweet potato leaves do not have solanine. They also do not have any other poisonous chemical. What they do have in plenty are micronutrients including potassium and iron. They also have fiber in them. Because they have these micronutrients and they are tasty, they are eaten in many cultures across the world.
They are also used to treat rashes and skin irritations plus metabolic issues.
The best leaves for eating are those that are harvested before the tubers underneath them are ready for harvesting.
How To Grow Sweet Potatoes For Their Tubers And Leaves?
Sweet potatoes are easy to grow compared to Irish potatoes. They can be grown easily especially in many places in the South of the United States. This is regardless of the season. The only thing they do not like is frost. However, this is something only those in the north often have to worry about.
If you live in a region that experiences winter or frost, you should grow sweet potatoes in the growing season immediately after winter.
Now that you know sweet potatoes are easy to grow and can be grown in many places, it is time to know how exactly to grow them for their tubers and their leaves.
1. Purchase Several Organic Sweet Potatoes
You cannot grow/propagate sweet potatoes without the potatoes. So buy some fresh natural sweet potatoes from your local farmers’ market or grocery. They must be natural/organic if you want the best results.
2. Dip Sweet Potatoes In Water
The easiest way to start sweet potatoes after buying sweet potatoes is to put each tuber in a glass and fill half the glass with water. After doing this, you are supposed to place the glasses on a south-facing windowsill. This will ensure the sun reaches the glasses every day. Once you’ve set the tubers in water and placed them somewhere where the sun gets to them daily, all you have to do is wait and within a few days, they will develop leaves and roots.
3. Transplant The Sweet Potato Seedlings To Pots
The moment leaves and roots emerge from your sweet potato tubers, you can transplant them into pots/containers. Make sure you use potting soil that is extremely well-drained. And that the pots have drainage holes. Because while sweet potatoes can handle many bad conditions, they cannot tolerate living in constantly wet soil. So get pots with drainage holes and put a well-draining potting soil in them. And then create a hole in the middle of each and transfer a tuber seedling to each of the pots.
4. Water Seedlings To Help Them Grow
Once you have transplanted your sweet potatoes to pots, you should water each pot only when its soil dries out to about three inches below the surface. This will ensure you do not overwater your seedlings, which is something that causes root rot. Keep in mind that sweet potatoes prefer being dry instead of moist.
5. Add Plant-Based Compost To The Growing Plants
Once your sweet potatoes have grown about 5 inches tall, you should transfer them to a bigger pot or the ground. Before doing this you should add plant-based compost to the soil. This will ensure they have the nutrients they need to grow. You should avoid animal-based compost as it has high nitrogen content which will reduce the size of your tubers.
6. Move Your Sweet Potatoes Outside
Sweet potatoes love and need the sun. Therefore, if you transplant them into the ground, you should transplant them somewhere where they get the full sun. If you transplant them into bigger pots, you should move the pots to locations on your balcony, veranda, or garden where they can get the full sun. The sun is what they need so make sure they get it.
7. Harvest Your Sweet Potatoes
Once you set your potatoes in the ground or bigger pots, you simply have to: water them weekly, monitor them for pests, and wait for about 80 days.
From around the 80th day, you can eat some leaves from your sweet potatoes because they will be packed with micronutrients and will be ready to eat. However, do not eat too many leaves as this will negatively affect the wellbeing of your sweet potato plants.
Most sweet potato varieties have tubers ready for harvesting in just 100 days. To know if your tubers are ready for harvesting, watch the leaves. If they start yellowing in unison, your tubers are ready for harvesting. Give them a few weeks in the ground after the leaves start yellowing and then dig them up carefully. After doing this, leave them in the sun for several hours to cure partially before taking them inside.
The answer to the question, “Can you eat potato leaves?” depends on the type of potato. You can eat the leaves of a sweet potato plant. They are healthy and are consumed in many parts of Africa, Asia, and Oceania. However, you cannot eat the leaves of an Irish potato plant because they are poisonous to humans. So if you have Irish potatoes in your garden or farm, you should only consume the potatoes.