Useful Invasives: Kudzu
Please, don't burn my house down for this one.
Kudzu is one of the most invasive species in Appalachia (almost as common as the equally invasive Dollar General.) It swallows up mountainsides and buries entire trees and should never be planted on purpose. But it's here, and it isn't going anywhere. So, let us partake in it's good side.
Kudzu is one of those justifications for the theory that plants grow where they're needed. With a rap sheet of cures a mile long, including uses for diabetes, alcoholism, heart disease, and obesity, it's no surprise its trying to make Appalachia into its own personal throne; these are all extremely common plights of those of us living in the bowels of poverty and in the wake of environmental abuse that spans a century. And since this medicine has clearly set up shop without our ongoing permission, it's time we collect on some rent.
First, it is important to note that though Kudzu is readily available on many roadsides, only collect from areas you know are not going to have high amounts of exhaust being breathed on them constantly AND on areas that are not sprayed by the county for control. Second, do not transplant this into a new area. Formerly, kudzu was actually sold commercially as a beautiful garden plant, in addition to being employed for erosion control. We've since learned that lesson and it does not need repeating. Don't do it. Do, however, use up as much as you possibly can for food and medicine, we owe it to the earth and ourselves.
How do we begin the process of consuming Kudzu safely, deliciously, and medicinally? Easy. Pick a few leaves, wash and chop, and add them raw to a salad. This plant will not hurt you in its natural form. Anything you'd use leafy greens for, you can use Kudzu leaves for. They're delicious as creamed greens, in smoothies, as pesto, and dried into a healthy powder to add to soups or drinks.
Kudzu roots, obviously abundant, are equally as delicious as the leaves. They can be used like you would a potato (mashed, baked, fried.) Or, make them into a powder to use similar to cornstarch. The powder can be used to thicken sauces, soups, or to coat things in to fry.
Kudzu flowers make delicate additions to salads, cakes, cookies, or drinks, and can also be used to make a sweet jelly. The baby vine shoots (not the mature, tough vines,) can be used in sauteed dishes alongside, or in place of, pea shoots.
Now, if you're using Kudzu as medicine, you probably don't want to be deep frying it, or covering it up with sugar and tons of other ingredients (but it still adds a healthy benefit in all of those recipes.) Kudzu extract is used in many studies for treating varying health conditions. It has been shown to reduce heavy drinking, heal alcohol induced liver damage, and heal heart damage.
Kudzu tea, made with dried roots, can be used to help with anxiety, depression, weight control, and a boundless amount of other ailments. It has been used in this way by the Chinese for thousands of years. Given how easy kudzu root is to collect and store in a dried form, this method of consumption is the most widely used.
Given the huge amount of beneficial uses for Kudzu, it's no wonder that it's highly prized in its native regions. Once again, when you are harvesting Kudzu from public land, make sure you know the area well, and its history of poison spray uses and traffic amounts. Happy foraging! Research well.
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