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Kudzu is one of those plants that everyone (at least in the southeastern states) knows, but few know how nutritious and helpful an herb it is. This is the trailing and climbing vine that has been known to scale rusted-out VW buses in a single bound, completely veiling trees and shrubs, boulders and buildings, all along America’s southern highways. But when you find out that a highly “invasive” species such as this is also highly edible, and nutritious, and a useful herbal medicine, well, that’s good news isn’t it? There is plenty for the herbalist or forager to harvest, and you’ll only be helping to restrain its growth—the other native plant species will thank you.
Root, flower, stem, leaf
Kudzu is a diaphoretic, hypotensive, stimulant to the spleen, sobering, antitumor, antioxidant, cardotonic, and generally aids in stimulating body fluids.
Pueraria montana has long been used to treat headache and fever, as well as drunkenness, alcoholism (by reducing the desire for alcohol), and hangover, and cirrhosis of the liver; in fact, “Kudzu extracts have also been found to stimulate regeneration of liver tissue while protecting against liver toxins,” (Foster, 193). It is also potent as a remedy for a number of digestive complaints, including diarrhea, dysentery, gastroenteritis, and digestive (and venous) obstruction. Used in a variety of types of cancer, kudzu is specifically indicated in cases of leukemia and breast cancer: “Genistein may prevent development of tumors by preventing the formation of new blood vessels that nourish the tumors.” Additional uses include deafness, measles and to promote measles eruptions, psoriasis, osteoporosis, high blood sugar and diabetes, high blood pressure and symptoms of hypertension, sore throat and other inflamed mucous membranes, allergies, cold and flu. Externally, “Stem poulticed for sores, swellings, mastitis,” (Foster, 192).
Kudzu contains the estrogenic isoflavones, genistein, daidzein, and daidzin.
Pueraria montana is an infamously invasive and hardy vine, originally native to China, but now found blanketing sections of the United States from Florida to Pennsylvania, as well as Texas and Kansas, and as I stated earlier, I love abundance of things that can be used and eaten: “The people of our southern communities could control the rampant spread of Kudzu vine through their countryside by eating it,” (Green, 15). Its leaves are palmate and grow in clusters of three. Shown in the picture above, kudzu’s beautiful reddish-purple flowers blossom between July and September, growing loosely in a raceme and smelling of grapes, (Foster, 192).
Kudzu roots are generally a winter harvest—late fall through early spring. Flowers should be collected just as they fully open, and per usual, in morning after the dew has lifted.
Tea is made from both the roots and the blossoms, and a poultice is made from the stems. Leaves can be boiled and eaten like spinach, and root starch can also be eaten as food. In fact, the roots can grow to be the size of a man and were the primary food starch in China and Japan until the sweet potato came along, (Duke II, 136). The root starch makes a wonderful broth for cold, flu, and general congestion—I’ve recently had great (and tasty) luck with the “Garlic-Onion-Ginger-Kudzu Tea” from Aviva Romm’s The Natural Pregnancy Book, (Romm, 188).
Kudzu has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. It was first introduced to the southeastern United States to help control erosion.
Getting ready to post a lovely bit on kudzu, but in the meantime, Dancing in a Field of Tansy shared this lovely post this past week on making and organizing an herbal first aid kit. Well thought out and with lots of helpful tips and pictures, this is one of those herbal projects I keep meaning to do, but never quite get around to. I think I’ll be taking it on in the near future, thanks to this inspiration, and a few others, listed below.
- From Dancing in a Field of Tansy
- From The Herb Companion
- From The Essential Herbal
- From ReWild Eugene
What would you put in your herbal first aid kit?
This is the line I kept repeating in my head Thursday afternoon.
I like to start my tinctures on the new moon—that’s how I was taught—and since the new moon was Friday, Thursday found me at the ABC store running cost analysis on the cheapest bottom shelf brandy and vodka—lowest cost, highest proof, which bottles I can reuse, you know. I show up at the register with four or five huge bottles of booze, and not the kind anyone would proudly display in their liquor cabinet. The lady at the cash register looks at the selection, looks at me, and then shakes her head, pursing her lips. I’m serious. And I know that face. It’s the same face my mom used to make when she saw what I planned on wearing for an evening out *grin*
And I start trying to explain that it’s for tincturing herbs, get as far as, “Oh, it’s not for drinking, well, not really…” and then I notice that everyone in the store is either staring or pointedly not looking at me. Then, never one to miss a thrifty opportunity, I asked if they had a case discount. Ummm, no. At which point I grabbed my [very heavy and sloshy] bags and swervily made my exit.
And then couldn’t stop laughing. Herbs are fun. 🙂 Oh, and for those interested, the new batch is now happily steeping away: passionflower, eleuthero, damiana, ginger, nettle, and milk thistle.