A species of the yam family, air potato is native to Africa, Asia and northern Australia. Traditionally known to be an invasive climber that hangs in the air, the tuber grows wild at a height of 150 to 2,100 metres.
Its medicinal and nutritive properties have been studied widely. It is used in folk remedy to treat conjunctivitis, diarrhoea, dysentery and other ailments. Air potatoes are also a good source of flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory benefits.
Benefits as per Ayurveda
Known by multiple names in India (gaithi being the most famous), air potato finds its mention in old scriptures for its properties of
1. Aphrodisiac – it increases vigor, improves sperm quantity and quality
2. A treatment for diabetes, eczema and internal parasites.
3. It is easy to digest, has special properties like anti ageing, rejuvenates cell and tissue, and increases vigor.
In early 2018, a paper highlighting its nutritive values in the Journal of Food Science and Toxicology was published. It was found that air potato contains higher amount of fat, protein, fibre and minerals than cultivated tubers. Every 100g of the wild tuber contains fat (0.54g), protein (3.75g), fibre (2.52g) in crude form, besides high amounts of calcium, phosphorous, iron, starch, and sodium. Traditionally, people consume it in times of food scarcity and cook it along with other vegetables.
Overconsumption of the wild variety, which is slightly bitter and has small indents or thorny projections on its cover, is problematic. Uncultivated forms, such as those found growing wild in Florida, can be poisonous. These varieties contain the steroid diosgenin. There have been claims that even the wild forms are rendered edible after drying and boiling, leading to confusion over actual toxicity.