Smallanthus sonchifolius

This amazing plant is available only in very limited quantities in 2024, and orders are strictly limited per customer!
A rare and very special addition to your food forest, this plant actually looks more like an ornamental that belongs in the back of a flower bed with its lush, velvety tropical foliage and copious small flowers.

An amazing example of Native American people’s mastery of plant domestication, this relative of the common sunflower and dahlia was planted along drainage lines and next to fields as part of the landscape until needed a season or even ten seasons later, where it produces large, water filled roots that have something of the flavor and texture of a pear, or apple, and are considered convenient refreshment to field workers who will dig the roots while working, rather than trudge down the mountainside to collect water.

Where modern interest in the crop lies, is that it is remarkably low in calories, as the sweet principles are long chain molecules that the human body treats as a soluble roughage, and does not digest. These fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are, in other words, an entirely natural, non-nutritive sweetener, and yacón syrup can be easily prepared from liquidized roots, strained and concentrated. This syrup is about a half as sweet as sugar, and is very expensive in South Africa as it is all imported.

Roots sweeten when ‘cured’ out of the ground for a few weeks, and whole storage roots will store roughly as long as potatoes. Used instead of apple in cooking, a yacón based “apple pie” is nothing short of amazing!
There are other uses for the plant, such as health teas prepared from the leaves, but the storage root is the main crop, and the reason the plant has been of such interest to agronomy in recent years.

Popularized by research in Japan starting in the late 1990’s, yacón tubers are rich in bioactive compounds beneficial for human health apart from the aforementioned FOS (the sweet principle in the root), they contain phytoalexines, phenolic compounds and high concentrations of fructanes. The leaves have been shown to have free radical scavenging, cytoprotective and anti-hyperglycemic activity.
Generally, derivatives of yacón are investigated scientifically for medicinal use because of its antidiabetic and hypoglycaemic effects. In Andean folk medicine, yacón is used against liver and kidney disease whereas it is used against diabetes and digestive problems in Bolivia.
The plant grows as a clump of annual stems, which can be evergreen in mild climates but die back with cold. Clumps grow to about 2m in height, and need about as much space in cultivation as a true sunflower. Crown roots are white turning purple when exposed to sun, and storage roots are brown, even when cured, although other colors of root skin and flesh are grown overseas.

This plant is best considered a sunflower in field, as it needs the same cultivation protocols in terms of space, water and pest control. It is a long season crop however, and will take a growing season to produce roughly ten kilos of storage roots per clump. Plants can also be left to grow for multiple seasons. A word of advice, ensure that the plant is grown in deep and friable soil, the storage roots can grow very large, and be difficult to dig up in one piece!

Plants are propagated clonally, from crown tubers that are split into largish pieces.
Plants are hardy to most climates encountered in South Africa, but can wilt a bit in heat. Plants die back in very cold areas and crowns should then be mulched.
Clumps can be harvested in May/June, the storage roots removed from the crown roots, and the whole crown stored in compost or wood shavings somewhere cool until splitting for spring planting. They may get a bit rubbery in storage, but a soak overnight in water will have them firm and ready to plant.
Roots can also be left in ground and crop and propagation material harvested in early spring, but care must be taken not to water in winter as storage roots can rot in cold, wet soil while the plants are dormant.
One gets on average 10 crown rhizomes per clump, plus one root base with eyes, so proliferation from your first crop is low, but becomes exponential in following years if care is taken.
Sections of tuber or eyed crowns received from Livingseeds should be planted immediately upon receipt. Best started in pots they will start sprouting the very second the weather warms up in whatever part of South Africa you are growing.


One propagule per customer

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Blanco Yacón

  • Product Code: 035-0005
  • Availability: In Stock
  • R97.75

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