Southerners know about Kudzu. The vine grows rapidly and covers anything in its path. But it’s also edible and has some medicinal properties. There is plenty of Kudzu available and here is how you can use it.
by Leon Pantenburg
Disclaimer: DO NOT use any wild plant you cannot positively identify. Check with a physician if you have a food allergy that kudzu might trigger. Do not substitute information from this post for consultations with your physician.
The green vines covered several houses and outbuildings, and made the area look like a movie scene, and possible mystery film. I was fascinated the first time I saw Kudzu in Helena, Arkansas. Later, I would find that this fast-growing, invasive plant is virtually everywhere in the south and that there are some benefits, in addition to stopping erosion, with using the plant.
I got interested in the medicinal value of Kudzu after learning that the plant can be used to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other cardiovascular issues.
Kudzu is a vine. Under the right growing conditions, it spreads easily, covering virtually everything that doesn’t move out of its path. The climbing, coiling, and trailing perennial vines are native to much of eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, and some Pacific islands.
Kudzu was introduced in North America in 1876 in the southeastern U.S. to prevent soil erosion. But Kudzu spread quickly and overtook farms and buildings, leading some to call to Kudzu “the vine that ate the South.” No one is sure where the first planting came from. It is considered an invasive weed by the USDA.
Recognizing Kudzu is generally not a problem since the vine will overtake virtually anything standing still. Often the leaflets have no teeth or lobes, but at other times they resemble Poison Ivy. The two plants can be told apart, because Kudzu has hairy leaf petioles (leaf stalk) and Poison Ivy does not. (Italics for emphasis – make absolutely sure you know what plant you are picking and don’t take my word for it! Poison Ivy is one nasty harmful plant and grows with a variety of leaf types.)
Make sure the plants you pick have not been sprayed with any herbicide or pesticide.
Medicinal use: Chinese medicine has used Kudzu since at least 200 BC. As early as 600 AD, it was used to treat alcoholism.
Today, health providers in China sometimes give puerarin, a chemical in kudzu, intravenously (by IV) to treat stroke due to a blood clot, as well as for back pain, heart attacks, and to reduce cholesterol levels in people with heart disease.
Kudzu is used to treat alcoholism and to reduce symptoms of alcohol hangover, including headache, upset stomach, dizziness, and vomiting.
Kudzu is also used for heart and circulatory problems, including high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and chest pain; for upper respiratory problems including sinus infections, the common cold, hay fever, flu, and swine flu; and for skin problems, including allergic skin rash, itchiness, and psoriasis.
Other oral uses include treatment of polio myelitis, encephalitis, migraine, deafness, diabetes, nerve pain and vision loss associated with diabetes, and traumatic injuries. (For more information on Kudzu’s medicinal properties, read this post.)
Kudzu leaves, vine tips, flowers, and roots are edible; the vines are not. The leaves can be used like spinach and eaten raw, chopped up and baked in quiches, cooked like collards, or deep fried. Young kudzu shoots are tender and taste similar to snow peas. The young leaves of Kudzu can be used for salad or cooked as a leafy vegetable. The leaves can be steeped in hot water to make tea.
Kudzu tea has a pleasant, though bland taste, IMHO, and can be served hot or cold. To make a super detoxifying tea, I mix kudzu tea with green tea. I put a teaspoon of maple syrup or honey in the tea to cut the bitterness and sweeten the flavor. Mix it about two to one with mint or green tea, sweeten with a little maple syrup or honey, and you get a pleasant detox drink. It’s a real thirst quencher, especially after strenuous, extreme exertion in the heat, like mowing a lawn in Mississippi in August!
Make sure you have properly identified any wild plant before using it. Get a good plant identification book with color photos, and know what you are looking for.
And best of all, Kudzu is free. Anyone with the vine on their property will probably be delighted to have someone trim it or thin the plant out.
For more info on cooking and eating Kudzu, take a look at this post.
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