Eddoe is a tropical root vegetable and leaf crop also know as taro, elephant’s ears, arvi, patra, eddo and dasheen. It's grown throughout the tropics, with hundreds of named cultivars.
Happiest in a tropical swamp, it makes a good, if rather large houseplant, and can be readily grown indoors in the UK. A healthy taro plant will reach over 1m/3ft in all directions, so you will need plenty of space.
In the UK there are generally two forms of Colocasia esculenta available: C. esculenta var. esculenta, sometimes called dasheen or cocoyam, and eddoe, C. esculenta var. antiquorum.
Dasheen has few large tubers, often looking similar to an Amaryllis bulb. They are sold at football sized or bigger, relatively smooth textured with pale coloured adventitious buds on the upper surface, where new growth will form. Dasheen tubers have yellow or brown to deep maroon skins: their flesh is pink, white or yellow, with a mealy texture. Dasheen needs high temperatures, humidity and rich soil to grow well.
Eddoe has many smaller, oval tubers, the size of a clementine, with a thin covering of brownish hairs. The tuber skin is usually brown and the firmer flesh can be pinkish, cream, yellow or orange. It's easier to grow as a houseplant, withstanding poorer soils, colder and drier conditions slightly better than dasheen. It’s usually cheaper to try as it has smaller tubers.
How to grow eddoe/taro
All forms of taro are grown from tubers, not seed. Eddoe is usually slightly easier than dasheen to start into growth. There are a few seed suppliers who sell plants, or you can buy tubers sold for food at an Asian or Caribbean shop.
Look for firm, weighty tubers (if you are lucky you may find some with small sprouts on) and plant them about half their depth in a gritty compost. Water well and keep somewhere warm – an airing cupboard is ideal – at 30oC for several days. Breaking dormancy depends on a number of factors, including how long the roots have been harvested i.e if they've been treated with a sprout suppressant. If the tuber doesn’t shoot, but looks healthy, don’t worry: they can take several months to emerge.
Once a shoot has developed, bring the plants into a light place but keep warm and free from draughts. Colocasias are gross feeders and appreciate a rich but well-draining compost. A mixture of equal parts garden compost, loam and grit is fine. They will need the biggest pot you can find!
During the growing season keep the plants damp and feed weekly. Taro will thrive in sun or semi-shade, but doesn’t do well outside in the UK, needing above 16oC/60oF to grow. Taro will survive periods of 10oC/50oF but will be damaged below this. A steamy bathroom, conservatory or warm office is the ideal growing space. The large leaves make a taro plant look very dramatic.
As the days shorten, reduce watering and stop feeding: the plants often die back in winter. You can expect a small helping of tubers within 18 months of planting and a crop of leaves two or three times a year.
Leaves can be used as spinach (it's important to cook thoroughly and remove the midribs first), fried in gram flour batter to make 'patra'. Cropping the leaves doesn’t seem to affect tuber yields provided the plant is growing actively and is well fed and watered after cutting.
The fleshy stalks are often added to soups as a thickening agent, as are the cooked peeled tubers. Cut a light crop of foliage once the plant has more than three full-sized leaves or lift a small crop of tubers after 12-18 months.
Tubers should be well washed before cooking, and allowed to dry before storage. They don’t keep well, becoming shrivelled in warm dry air or rotting if kept too cold.
Boil or bake tubers in their skins, then peel, slice or mash. A bland vegetable, it's used as a starchy filler, like potatoes with a thick, creamy texture. Once you've harvested your eddoe tuber, save one to start a new plant in spring, storing in dry soil somewhere frost-free, as for a dahlia tuber.
Please be aware: Taro may contain calcium oxalate crystals, in the leaves and sometimes in the tubers. These are not toxic but cause a very unpleasant and uncomfortable burning sensation to the hands or mouth and throat if handled roughly or eaten raw. Calcium oxalate quantities vary greatly according to variety (and possibly growing conditions.) Never eat raw Colocasia leaves and if you have sensitive skin, handle the plants using gloves. and ensure it is thoroughly cooked.
Plants may die back over winter due to poor light levels and low temperatures, but can successfully be overwintered in their pots at room temperature (above 16 degrees centigrade). They will start into growth again as conditions improve. Taro is very susceptible to red spider mite and scale insect attack.
Taro hardly ever flowers in the UK, so there's rarely any seed to save. Usually plants are propagated from tubers or offsets of existing crops: this makes them particularly prone to viruses, so only save division from healthy plants.