Agricultural historians in our Southern states have largely ignored the importance of the sweet potato as a southern crop. Reference is often made to the role of rice, tobacco, cotton and indigo in the establishment of agriculture in the South. Seldom is it mentioned that homesteaders, the farmers, the plantation families and the laborers who produced the other crops. At least one writer, a colonial doctor, referred to the sweet potato as the vegetables indispensable. Before the days of modern drugs frontier doctors often prescribed sweet potatoes, especially for children because of their value in combating childhood nutritional diseases.
Georgia was the Number One state in sweet potato production for over 100 years (1836-1936). During the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th if a farm or plantation did not have its “tater patch” or acreage it was considered a “low-class” establishment. And before the days of super markets, fresh vegetables from Mexico, home freezers and fast food restaurants, the sweet potato was often the only fresh vegetable available to many Georgia families. That was not as tragic as it sounds because every nutritionist knows that the country boy of yesterday who “took an old cold tater and waited” was still well-fed.
The sweet potato as a food plant has few peers. Utilizing both the roots and foliage one could live well nourished for long periods of time on this vegetable alone. The roots are packed with vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates plus some of the essential amino acids. It has been evaluated as one of the all around nutritious foods available anywhere. One medium-sized sweet potato has more than twice the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A and is rich in Vitamin C, iron and thiamine. Georgia sweet potatoes ounce for ounce have over half as much Vitamin C as Florida orange juice.
In the USDA Handbook Number 8 Composition of Foods, fourteen nutrients are listed and the sweet potato is shown to have appreciable amounts of every one.
The leaves and tender vine tips are used as a pot herb in many parts of the world much as we use turnips, collards and spinach. They are very high in protein, vitamins and minerals.
The popular varieties of sweet potatoes now being grown in Georgia are the Red Jewel, Regular Jewel and the Georgia Jet.