Cocoyam (also called dasheen or taro) is the common name of Colocasia esculenta, the edible Elephant Ear. Taro plants are often grown for their ornamental qualities, but the root and leaves can also be harvested for food.
Colocasia esculenta encompasses several plants which are grown for their showy leaves and one, green taro, which is raised for food in India and the South Pacific from whence the species hails.
Mature taro leaves are roughly the size and shape of an elephant's ears, and this is what they are commonly called when grown as an ornamental.
The heart-shaped leaf is medium green with lighter veins and will grow to a length of approximately 3 feet if the growing season is long enough.
The plant, when planted as a tuber in spring, can reach 6 feet in height by late fall.
Taro leaves are edible when cooked. The raw leaf contains too much oxalic acid and is toxic.
This is a starchy tuber, about the size of a baking potato, which is a dietary staple to some indigenous populations in Hawaii, Fiji, and India. If you have ever visited Hawaii, you may have eaten it at a luau where it is served as the gravy-like traditional dish poi.
Taro root can sometimes be found for sale at farmer's markets or upscale supermarkets in the continental U.S. You can cook these tubers or plant them in your garden or in a large pot.
You don't have to have a yard to grow cocoyam. If you have the space, you can grow it as a large, foliage houseplant. When grown in this fashion, the roots can be left in their pots year round and the leaves will remain green.
Plant the tubers 3 inches deep and 4-6 feet apart in rich, organic soil which is neutral to slightly acid. Lay them down so that the "eyes" face upward. If there are "eyes" all around the root, lay it on its side.
A sunny or shady exposure will suit it. Sun will cause the plants to grow more quickly in temperate areas where summers are not too hot. Plants grown in full sun will lose more moisture through the large leaves than plants growing in shade. This will not matter if the roots are planted in boggy soil. Otherwise, be careful never to let the soil dry as this will lead to browning of the leaves.
Exposure to drought conditions will cause the plants to die back, but the roots will survive and resprout as soon as regular moisture is supplied.
Feed taro plants once a month with a complete, balanced fertilizer.
The taro plant's top growth is hardy to 30 degrees F. In zones 10-11, dasheen is evergreen. In colder areas, it will die to the ground after the first frost and return the following year.
Taro roots may be left in the ground over the winter in zones 9-11. In colder areas, the bulbs should be lifted after the top growth has died, air dried for a few days and stored in dry packing material in a warm (70 degrees F.) room.
Replant the roots when the soil warms in the spring.
A stand of ornamental Elephant Ears on display at Longwood Gardens.
Where the roots are lifted each fall, increase your planting material by dividing the tubers before you replant them in the spring.
Where the roots remain in the soil, they will increase on their own. Just watch for baby taro plants to sprout up around the mother plants. Dig and move these volunteers to other beds.
For best results, use tubers that are firm, heavy for their size and unblemished. Taro skin is brown, its flesh may be white or purple.
When cooked, cocoyam tastes much like a white potato and you can boil or steam it as you would potatoes.
To bake cocoyam:
The dried flesh of the roots are traditionally pounded into a flour.
Taro chips are every bit as delicious as potato chips, especially when you make them fresh at home!
You can bake or fry them. To make taro chips, peel the tubers and slice them into thin rounds. Follow the instructions in this sweet potato chip recipe to cook them.