Kudzu, aka “The Vine That Ate the South”
Kudzu’s history begins in ancient Asia and made it’s way to the United States in 1876. The word “kudzu” comes from the Japanese word “kuzu” which means vine. For centuries, people in China, Japan and India have used kudzu for homeopathic remedies for symptoms of heart disease and high blood pressure [source: Drugsite Trust]. It’s even been used as an alternative remedy to relieve muscular aches and to treat measles. Herbalists take the root of the plant and boil it to make a starchy powder or solid kudzu root starch. Some make liquid concoctions like ginseng extract or vanilla extract from the root. Yet others make tea from it.
If Kudzu grows near you, you won’t ever starve to death. Most of the plant is edible in some way; the seeds and seed pods are not. Kudzu belongs to the legume family and is related to the pea, soybean, peanut, alfalfa, aster and oat.
Kudzu can be eaten many ways. The young leaves can be consumed as a green, or juiced. They can be dried and made into a tea. Shoots can be eaten like asparagus. The blossom can be used to make pickles or jelly and the root is full of edible starch. Older leaves can be fried like potato chips, or used to wrap food for storage or cooking. With kudzu you can make a salad, stew the roots, batter-fry the flowers, pickle them or make a make syrup. Roots stripped of their outer bark can be roasted in an oven like any root vegetable; or grated and ground into a flour to make a thick stock. Only the seeds of the kudzu plant are not edible.
Check out this recipe that I found on eattheweeds.com:
Kudzu Blossom Jelly
Spoon over cream cheese, or melt and serve over waffles and ice cream. The blossom liquid is gray until lemon juice is added.
- 4 cups Kudzu blossom
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 (1 3/4-ounce) package powdered pectin
- 5 cups sugar
Wash Kudzu blossoms with cold water, and place them in a large bowl. Pour 4 cups boiling water over blossoms, and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. Pour blossoms and liquid through a colander into a Dutch oven, discarding blossoms. Add lemon juice and pectin; bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
Stir in sugar; return to a full rolling boil, and boil, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Remove from heat; skim off foam with a spoon. Quickly pour jelly into hot, sterilized jars, filling to 1/4 inch from top. Wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands.
Process in boiling water bath 5 minutes. Cool on wire racks. YIELD: 6 half pints.
Kudzu can be used as a source of alternative fuel. In fact, researchers are exploring it as a form of ethanol. This green, lush plant’s roots contain large amounts of carbohydrates that can easily be converted to biofuel. These days, corn and soy are largely used to create biofuel, but some people are concerned that depleted supplies of both due to ethanol production could create a food shortage.
A word to the wise
Although Kudzu could keep you from starving in an emergency type of situation, you wouldn’t want to plant Kudzu on your property on purpose. Kudzu grows really fast — as much as a foot or two each day. Once it forms a blanket over land or trees, light can’t get through, so the vast majority of the underlying plants or trees eventually die. Only the hardiest plants can survive the suffocating effects of a kudzu infestation. Imagine the damage kudzu can do to a food or timber crop. The weight of kudzu vines can actually uproot trees, elevating this plant from a mere annoyance to an actual source of danger. Kudzu also disrupts the food chain by threatening vegetation that native animals use for food and shelter. What’s more, kudzu root systems impact the amount of water in the soil and ultimately, the ecosystem itself. For these reasons, the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) recently added kudzu to the Global Invasive Species database and they’ve named it one of the 100 worst alien invasive species on Earth [source: Global Invasive Species Database].
No… I don’t think I am going to plant kudzu in my yard, but I know where to find it if I need it. If you live in the Southeast, chances are you know where to find it too.
Sources: science.howstuffworks.com; eattheweeds.com;