What happens if you eat sweet potato leaves?

Eating sweet potato leaves is generally considered safe and healthy. The leaves are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that provide nutritional benefits. However, there are some things to keep in mind when consuming sweet potato leaves.

Are sweet potato leaves edible?

Yes, sweet potato leaves are edible. In many cultures, especially in Asian countries, the leaves are commonly cooked and eaten as a vegetable. All parts of the sweet potato plant, including the leaves, stems, and shoots, are edible.

Nutritional value

Sweet potato leaves are highly nutritious. They are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Some of the key nutrients found in sweet potato leaves include:

  • Vitamin A – Sweet potato leaves contain high amounts of provitamin A carotenoids that can be converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is important for healthy vision, immune function, and cell growth.
  • Vitamin C – The leaves provide vitamin C, an antioxidant that boosts immunity and helps make collagen for wound healing.
  • Vitamin E – This fat-soluble vitamin in the leaves has antioxidant properties that protect cells from damage.
  • Vitamin K – Necessary for proper blood clotting, vitamin K is abundant in sweet potato leaves.
  • Iron – As a key component of hemoglobin in red blood cells, iron helps transport oxygen throughout the body. The iron content in sweet potato leaves helps prevent anemia.
  • Calcium – This mineral is essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. Sweet potato leaves provide some calcium to the diet.
  • Magnesium – The leaves contain magnesium, a mineral needed for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body related to energy, protein synthesis, muscle contraction, nerve function, and blood glucose control.
  • Potassium – An electrolyte, potassium helps regulate fluid balance, nerve signals, and muscle function. Sweet potato leaves are a decent source of potassium.
  • Fiber – The leaves provide insoluble fiber that promotes regularity, healthy digestion, and overall gut health.
  • Antioxidants – Compounds like anthocyanins and phenolic acids have antioxidant properties that help neutralize damaging free radicals and reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.

Health benefits

Eating sweet potato leaves can provide many potential health benefits due to their nutritional profile:

  • May support eye health due to high vitamin A, vitamin C, and antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin
  • Could boost immunity and fight inflammation thanks to vitamins A and C, plus polyphenols
  • Provides iron to help prevent anemia and improve energy levels
  • Magnesium, potassium, and fiber help regulate blood pressure
  • Fiber aids digestive regularity and gut health
  • Antioxidants help protect against oxidative damage from free radicals
  • Potassium may help reduce muscle cramps
  • Calcium helps strengthen bones

Overall, adding sweet potato leaves to your diet can increase your intake of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important for optimal health.

Side effects and safety

For most people, eating moderate amounts of sweet potato leaves is considered very safe. However, there are a few things to be aware of:

  • Oxalates – Sweet potato leaves contain oxalic acid and oxalates, which may cause health issues for some people prone to kidney stones.
  • Allergies – Rarely, individuals may experience allergic reactions after eating sweet potato leaves. Discontinue use if any sensitivities or allergic symptoms occur.
  • Pesticides – Only consume leaves grown without pesticides to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals.
  • Overconsumption – Eating extremely large amounts of sweet potato leaves in one sitting may cause digestive upset.

To avoid potential problems, start with small portions of leaves to assess your tolerance. Drink plenty of fluids to flush out any oxalates. Only consume leaves grown organically without pesticide use. Anyone with kidney issues should consult a healthcare provider before eating oxalate-rich foods like sweet potato leaves.

Taste and flavor

Sweet potato leaves have a taste and flavor profile similar to spinach or Swiss chard. The leaves taste slightly sweet and earthy with herbal, grassy undertones. When cooked, the leaves become more robust, complex, and concentrated in flavor.

The specific taste can vary somewhat depending on factors like:

  • Growing conditions – Mineral content of the soil, sunlight exposure, rainfall or watering frequency, etc. can affect taste.
  • Leaf age and size – Younger, smaller leaves tend to be more tender and milder in flavor than older, larger leaves.
  • Cooking method – Boiling, sautéing, or stir-frying will intensify flavors differently than eating leaves raw.
  • Ingredients and seasonings used – Added spices, herbs, oils, garlic, etc. complement the earthy flavor of the leaves.

The taste of sweet potato leaves makes them very versatile to use in many savory dishes. Their flavor pairs well with ingredients like garlic, ginger, chili peppers, lemon, coconut milk, peanuts, sesame, soy sauce, coriander, and curry spices.

How to eat sweet potato leaves

There are many ways to eat and enjoy sweet potato leaves:

  • Sauté – Mince leaves and sauté with olive oil and garlic for a quick side dish.
  • Soup – Add chopped leaves to vegetable, chicken, or miso soup.
  • Stir fry – Toss slivered leaves with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger.
  • Curry – Cook leaves in coconut milk curry dishes with onions, spices, and protein.
  • Salad – Raw sweet potato leaves work great in green salads for texture.
  • Sandwich – Place leaves on sandwiches, burgers, tacos, or flatbread.
  • Smoothie – Blend raw or cooked leaves into green smoothies.
  • Pesto – Purée leaves with olive oil, nuts, garlic, lemon, and parmesan for pesto.
  • Bake – Add leaves to casseroles, frittatas, and baked goods.
  • Juice – Juice the leaves with fruits and vegetables for green juice.

The leaves pair well with many ingredients like rice, beans, eggs, cheese, chicken, fish, meat, tofu, vegetables, herbs, and spices. Almost any savory dish can be enhanced nutrition-wise by adding some sweet potato leaves.

Growing your own

One of the best ways to enjoy an abundant supply of fresh sweet potato leaves is to grow your own sweet potato plants. Sweet potatoes are easy-to-grow vines that produce edible leaves, stems, tubers, and shoots.

Follow these simple steps for growing sweet potatoes and harvesting the nutritious leaves:

  1. Get slips – Start with sweet potato slips, sprouts, or cuttings, available at garden stores.
  2. Prepare soil – Plant slips in warm, well-draining, compost-amended soil.
  3. Plant – Space slips 12-18 inches apart in full sun around late spring after the soil has warmed up.
  4. Grow – Water regularly and fertilize occasionally. Vines will spread along the ground and produce leaves.
  5. Harvest leaves – Start picking outer leaves a few months after planting. Don’t harvest over 50% of leaves at once.
  6. Dig tubers – After frost kills vines, dig up tubers carefully with a fork.

With the right growing conditions, a 10-foot row of sweet potato slips can yield up to 10 pounds of leaves over a season! Homegrown leaves are fresher and contain higher nutrients than store-bought options.

Buying and storing leaves

When buying fresh sweet potato leaves, look for vibrant green leaves without wilting, spots, or blemishes. Smaller, young leaves will be more tender. Store unwashed leaves loosely wrapped in paper towels in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Sweet potato leaves can also be frozen for longer storage. Blanch leaves for 1-2 minutes, dry thoroughly, and then store in freezer bags or containers for 4-6 months. Frozen leaves are ideal for smoothies and soups. Dried leaves can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Nutritional comparison to sweet potato tubers

Sweet potato tubers and leaves have some overlapping nutritional benefits, as well as key differences:

Nutrient Sweet Potato Leaves (cooked) Sweet Potato Tubers (cooked)
Calories 41 per cup 180 per medium potato
Fiber 3 grams (11% DV) 4 grams (17% DV)
Vitamin A 16,706 IU (335% DV) 43883 IU (878% DV)
Vitamin C 33 mg (39% DV) 30 mg (37% DV)
Vitamin K 806 mcg (672% DV) 7 mcg (6% DV)
Iron 2.7 mg (15% DV) 1.4 mg (8% DV)
Potassium 180 mg (4% DV) 557 mg (12% DV)

While sweet potato tubers are higher in calories, fiber, vitamin A, and potassium, the leaves provide more vitamin K and iron. Enjoying both leaves and tubers offers a wider range of vitamins, minerals, and health benefits.

Risks of toxicity

When eaten in normal food amounts, sweet potato leaves are not toxic. However, extremely high doses of certain compounds in the leaves may be problematic:

  • Beta-carotene: Very high amounts of beta-carotene from the leaves can temporarily cause carotenemia, a harmless and reversible condition causing yellow-orange discoloration of the skin.
  • Oxalates: High oxalate intake over time in those prone to kidney stones may increase kidney stone risk.
  • Glycoalkaloids: All parts of the sweet potato plant contain glycoalkaloids, which in very large doses may be toxic. But glycoalkaloid levels in leaves are low when cooked properly.

For most people consuming reasonable portions of leaves, toxicity is very unlikely. Those with kidney disorders should avoid eating high amounts of leaves frequently due to the oxalate content.


Sweet potato leaves are highly nutritious, providing many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and health benefits. Moderate portions of leaves are safe for most people to consume as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Integrating the edible leaves into your meals is an easy way to get more nutrients and take advantage of the entire sweet potato plant.

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