Kudzu, an Invasive Weed with Hidden Virtues

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Kudzu (Pueraria montana)
Kudzu (Pueraria montana)
(Photo by: Jud McCranie/Wikimedia Commons)

Kudzu (Pueraria Montana), or also known as Japanese arrowroot, is a perennial blossoming vine which hailed from Asia. This plant was originally brought over to the US from Japan in the 1800s. It was cultivated as livestock feed at first, but over time, it becomes an invasive weed. Kudzu poses a lot of danger for nearby plants as it can cover, shade, and eventually kill them. These days, kudzu can be found growing across the US. This plant is especially rampant in the South and Southeastern US, giving it the name “the vine that ate the south”.

However, despite being a dangerous invasive species, kudzu actually has some hidden benefits. Almost all parts of this plant, except for its seeds and seed pods, are edible. Moreover, kudzu can also be used as a herbal remedy for many ailments. In fact, it’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.

Edibility and culinary use

As mentioned before, kudzu is edible and safe to eat. In fact, it’s considered a staple vegetable in Japan. Just make sure the plant you harvested is safe to eat. Most kudzu vines in the wild have been sprayed with herbicides. Don’t eat them if you’re unsure whether they’ve been sprayed with chemicals or not.

Kudzu (Pueraria montana) Seedpods
Kudzu (Pueraria montana) Leaves
(Photo by: Jud McCranie/Wikimedia Commons)

Kudzu leaves and young shoots can be served raw or cooked. They can be tossed on a salad, added into soups, deep-fried, or stir-fried. Then, much like the common arrowroot, kudzu roots are also full of edible starch. This starch is a powerful thickening agent which can be used in soups, stews, and sauces. Kudzu starch is also gluten-free, making it a great wheat flour substitute for those with a gluten allergy or intolerance. Lastly, the fragrant blossoms can be served raw, cooked, or pickled. These flowers can be used as an edible garnish on salads and desserts and at the same time, they can also be made into jelly, syrup, and candy.

Health benefits

Despite being considered a pesky weed, kudzu has so many health benefits to offer. To begin with, it’s rich in dietary fibers, making it a good and filling energy source. It’s also a great source of minerals, such as iron, sodium, calcium, potassium, copper, magnesium, and manganese. Lastly, this plant contains isoflavones which act like estrogen in the body. For this reason, it’s often used to treat menopause symptoms. Studies also suggest that kudzu’s isoflavones may be able to prevent and help treat breast cancer and uterine cancer.

Kudzu is also a popular herb among those with drinking problems. This herb can treat alcoholism and relieve hangover symptoms, such as headaches, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. It’s believed that kudzu can combat drinking addictions by increasing blood flow and making drinkers feel the alcohol effects sooner. This way, drinkers are more likely to drink less and stop drinking earlier.

Additionally, kudzu is also used to treat other ailments, such as cold, fever, flu, hay fever, sinus infection, migraine, upset stomach, diarrhea, dysentery, muscle pain, and neck stiffness. It can also treat skin problems, such as itchiness, rash, and psoriasis. Kudzu can help control blood sugar levels in diabetic patients as well. Lastly, it’s also great for treating cardiovascular diseases. The flavonoid-like compound in it increases blood circulation and flow. For this reason, kudzu works great to treat high blood pressure, stroke, cholesterol, angina, and even heart attacks.

Cultivation

Kudzu (Pueraria montana) Seedpods
Kudzu (Pueraria montana) Seedpods
(Photo by: Pollinator/Wikimedia Commons)

As mentioned earlier, kudzu vines can be found easily throughout the country. This invasive plant grows easily and spreads rapidly. It shouldn’t be hard to find kudzu vines to harvest. But, if you’re afraid some of these vines had been sprayed with herbicides, you can cultivate this plant in your own garden. Just remember that this plant has the potential to take over your entire garden; a single vine can grow up to 15’ to 75’ in length. So, be sure to prune the vines regularly to keep them under control.

To start, you need to get the seeds. You can get kudzu seeds online, but you should be able to gather seed pods from wild kudzu vines as well. Then, pick where you want to grow this plant. This hardy plant can grow essentially anywhere, just make sure it gets full sun exposure. Then, simply scatter the seeds in the spring and bury them in a layer of soil. Young shoots will appear not long after planting.

After the plant starts to grow, it doesn’t need too much maintenance. You only need to water them once or twice a week. You should be able to start harvesting the leaves in fall. This plant can be harvested any time of the year, except during the winter when it loses its leaves.

Don’t forget to control the growth of the vines. You can do this by pruning them regularly, digging up the roots, picking its leaves in large amounts, and covering it under heavy mulch.

Cautions

Be careful when harvesting kudzu as its leaves look similar to poison ivy leaves. The easiest way to differentiate both plants is to remember that kudzu is a vine which grows outwards in every direction, while poison ivy is a ground vine which grows vertically to the sky. Make sure you don’t accidentally harvest the wrong plant. If you’re unsure about the identity of the plant you harvested, don’t eat it.

Kudzu (Pueraria montana) Flower
Kudzu (Pueraria montana) Flower
(Photo by: Clinton Steeds/Flickr)

Kudzu may slow down your blood’s ability to clot. If you’re about to undergo a surgery or have a bleeding disorder, it’s best to avoid consuming this herb. There are also some concerns it might interfere with cardiovascular functions. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and affect heart rhythm. So, avoid it if you’re suffering from any cardiovascular diseases or undergoing cardiovascular treatments. Lastly, it can also affect blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. Pay attention to your blood sugar level when consuming this herb.

Conclusion

Despite being feared and even hated for its aggressive nature, it turns out that kudzu holds so many potentials as well. This wild edible is versatile and can be used in numerous recipes. As a medicinal herb, this plant is also useful for treating many different ailments. If you want to include kudzu in your daily diet, it’s recommended to grow it in your own garden to avoid accidentally consuming herbicides. Just remember to keep the vines in control and don’t let them take over your entire garden.


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Writen by Cornelia Tjandra
Cornelia is a freelance writer with a passion for bringing words to life and sharing useful information with the world. Her educational background in natural science and social issues has given her a broad base to approach various topics with ease. Learn more about her writing services on Upwork.com or contact her directly by email at cornelia.tjandra@gmail.com



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