Or more commonly known, kudzu, it also carries the name Japanese arrowroot, and the “Vine-that-ate-the-south.” I remember the day our neighbor stopped and said, “Kudzu got your fence didn’t it?” with a knowing chuckle. Once established, it is almost impossible to eradicate. According to Mississippi State University’s Invasive Plant Atlas of the MidSouth, it was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Native to eastern India, China, and Japan, it was thought to be an ornamental useful for erosion control. Apparently, only the species common in the southeast is such a massive problem, and the greatest impact is that it crowds out native species (United States Department of Agriculture). “Crowds out” is relatively benign-sounding, considering it can grow several inches in a day, wrap itself around anything not moving, and consume not only live vegetation, but houses and cars and roads. Although we lost the battle for the fence and a good many trees and shrubs long ago, we do our best to keep it from overtaking the house, though that is beginning to be a losing battle in spots as well.
On the upside, there are alleged medical uses for kudzu, and it is edible. While more common to eat the tuberous roots in Asian countries, WebMD describes use of kudzu to treat a variety of ailments, and it has been used in Chinese medicine since 200 BC.
There is information that suggests kudzu contains ingredients that counteract alcohol. It might also have effects like estrogen. Chemicals in kudzu might also increase blood circulation in the heart and brain.
Kudzu can be eaten. (Note: Important to make sure it has not been chemically sprayed, so know your kudzu source if you plan to eat it.) The tender young shoots of the vine can be sauteed and taste similar to snow peas if you can believe what you read. Juanitta Baldwin authored the cookbook Kudzu Cuisine which includes recipes for breads and jellies, and it can be used like spinach in salad and quiche. The leaves can be fried to a chip, and the roots pulverized. Some even claim it makes you look younger.
I guess that should be a lesson to me to stop bemoaning being surrounded by kudzu and start looking at options. I have enough kudzu to eat without ever having to go to store again, and hey, who wouldn’t go for younger looking? Apparently, just mix a teaspoon with your “nightly tonic” like 80-year-old Edith Edwards, “the Kudzu Queen of North Carolina.”
I tell the women they can chew it like the cows if they like, and I mean this seriously…People say, ‘Edith, how do you keep so young-looking?’ and I say, Well, I eat kudzu.
But, seriously, I want to know what else in in that nightly tonic!