Charlie’s tips for growing and making a salad of mango, sweet potatoes and lagos spinach

Well, I can speak a lot to sweet potatoes because of my research project, and I would say the most important factor is warm soil. You can’t have soil too hot for sweet potatoes. I mean, right now I have some clear plastic mulch that I laid down about two weeks before I transplanted the sweet potato slips (baby sweet potatoes come as slips). Right now, underneath that plastic, the soil is about 90 degrees. I’ve read that the soil could be over 100 degrees and your sweet potatoes will still be thriving. So warm soil is an important cultural condition.

Also, just avoiding cold in general. Sweet potatoes won’t be happy, in any part of their life-cycle, if they’re exposed to cold temperatures. Some people don’t realize this, but after sweet potatoes are harvested – and you want to harvest before the first frost of fall – you really want to cure them in a warm place. I think sometimes people will cure them in a cold area, unknowingly. And that can actually change the entire taste and texture of the sweet potatoes

It’s the same deal when storing sweet potatoes. They want to be stored above 60 degrees. So sometimes people put sweet potatoes in the fridge, or store them in a cool place, thinking they’re similar to regular potatoes. That could actually change the texture of the sweet potato. The core can get really, really hard. That’s something I don’t think grocery stores pay a lot of attention to. I know when I find sweet potatoes in the grocery store, typically they’re not kept in the cooler section. But you never know about their travel. They’re not cold tolerant. They need warm soil and lots of love.

I’m less sure about best practices for growing mangoes. People said it would be hard to grow sweet potatoes in Oregon, but I think it’s even harder to grow mangoes in Oregon because they are such tropical loving trees. And again, the practice of patience comes up. It can take anywhere from five to fifteen years for a mango tree grown from seed to produce fruit.

Mangoes have taught me patience from when I was a child. My grandparents would send us boxes of mangoes growing up, because they would have too many for them to eat. Growing up in Maryland, we’d have to be patient throughout the summer, waiting to get our boxes of mangos. And then once we got the boxes, let’s say it’s a box of 20 mangoes, maybe 5 to 10 are ripe right away. We had to wait for the opportune moment. I’d always be asking my mom ‘Can we eat a mango yet? Are they ripe yet?’. And she’d often tell me ‘Not yet’… Some of my first memorable lessons in patience.

And when it comes to Lagos spinach, I didn’t know anything about growing Lagos spinach until this season. I didn’t know what Lagos spinach was until fall of last year. And it’s growing incredibly well in our clay soil. We provide generous amounts of water, just because it’s our first growing season and we didn’t want water to be a limiting factor. The Lagos spinach plants have been very resilient, they even survived the 115 degree heat wave.

Words that Describe Mangoes, Lagos Spinach, and Sweet Potatoes

Mangoes are like sunshine, edible sunshine.

Lagos spinach is resilient. From what I’ve seen, they really thrive in conditions that maybe we wouldn’t expect them to. And then, when I think of Lagos Spinach, I’m reminded of my West African ancestry. And I think about the resilience of my ancestors who came as enslaved people and endured what they went through, for me and my generation, and generations to come, to exist in a world that is better than what they were given.

There are so many words that I can use to describe sweet potatoes. The word that first comes to mind is gratitude. They just fill me with so much gratitude. And reciprocity is another word to describe sweet potatoes. I feel like they’re one of those plants where as much energy as I give to them, they give it back to me. I feel reciprocity and gratitude when I think of sweet potatoes.

Lagos Spinach, Sweet Potato Leaves, Mango, and Avocado Salad

  • Lagos spinach leaves
  • Sweet potato leaves
  • Diced mango
  • Sliced avocado
  • Green Goddess dressing

I will put mango on pretty much anything. I love to put mango in guacamole. It adds this sweet, tangy, hint of loveliness to guacamole. I like to put mangoes on tacos, too. I really will put mangoes on anything. Just the other day I was able to try Lagos spinach, sweet potato leaves, and mango in a salad. It was exciting to taste three of my favorite plants, all in one dish. And it was delicious. There’s a contrast between the sweetness of the sweet potato leaves, and the bitterness of the Lagos spinach, and then the mango is the final touch. Now I’m imagining adding avocados from my grandparents’ tree because that was kind of what that salad was missing.

I love salads. I hope one day to live in the tropics so I can grow all my favorite plants. I dream of walking through the garden outside of my house, harvesting Lagos spinach and sweet potato leaves, and picking fresh mangoes and avocadoes to throw into a salad – all without leaving the comfort of my home.

Read more about Charlotte/Charlie: How do you talk to the land and how do you hear the answers?

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Thanks for this lovely meditation. You eating sweet potato leaves made me wonder whether the ornamental sweet potato plants that we buy for the greenery in annual baskets and pots could be eaten. My one little 4″ pot became so abundant this year it’s basically dominated the container. If I could eat those leaves I would! I’m going to be curious about what’s underneath when I take it out this year. Perhaps with the heat this summer there’s a sweet potato there! I’ll be on the lookout for lagos spinach, too.

Great question, Kathleen. Ornamental sweet potato leaves are not recommended for consumption. My understanding is that selection for colorful leaves changes palatability of ornamental sweet potato leaves, and potentially the safety of those leaves for consumption.

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