For anyone not familiar with it, kudzu is a vine in the pea / bean / legume family. At one time the U.S. Government encouraged folks to grow it, as it is a very fast growing plant suitable for feeding to a variety of herbivores. It also does a pretty good job of climbing up trees, growing a foot or two a day, and smothering whole native habitats… so now the U.S. Government (and many State Governments) are trying to get rid of it. They are doing this via importing bugs that have been found to feed on it. (And hoping that THEY don’t turn out to be pests…) I found an article on the testing they were doing, and it basically was ‘bean like stuff’… so if the bug in question doesn’t like Soybeans and Limas, they figure it’s picky. No need to test on lettuce or walnuts. Somehow I find that quite reasonable and very risky at the same time. Maybe it’s never had a chance to try lettuce and will find it’s just dandy.
So this stuff is growing like crazy and ‘that’s a problem’…
Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States at the Japanese pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It is now common along roadsides and other undisturbed areas throughout most of the southeastern United States. Kudzu has been spreading at the rate of 150,000 acres (61,000 ha) annually.
At any rate, they are importing bugs to try and kill off this stuff. For those wanting to read up on kudzu, there’s a wiki:
It doesn’t (presently) grow in California though there is rumored to be a patch somewhere up near Portland Oregon. Still, it’s around in a lot of places. Map of USA locations where it is invasive here. It’s likely elsewhere too, just not overwhelming yet…
Kudzu was discovered July 2009 in a patch 110 m (360 ft) wide and 30 m (98 ft) deep, on a south-facing slope on the shore, of Lake Erie near Leamington, Ontario, about 50 km (31 mi) southeast of Windsor. Leamington is located in the second warmest growing region of Canada after south coastal British Columbia.
During World War II, kudzu was introduced to Vanuatu and Fiji by United States Armed Forces to serve as camouflage for equipment. It is now a major weed.
Kudzu is also becoming a problem in northeastern Australia,, and has been seen in isolated spots in Northern Italy (Lake Maggiore).
In New Zealand kudzu was declared an “unwanted organism” and was added to the Biosecurity New Zealand register in 2002
The wiki has a lot about various ways to try and kill this stuff, and the dismal record so far.
It also notes some of the useful features. The vines can be used to make baskets and the leaves for animal feed. It can be used to make paper and, of course, for fuel. Then there is a reference to people eating it. That caught my interest, as I’m always interested in “found foods” and any food that might be usable in a generalized crop failure / famine event.
(While I’m pretty sure we won’t have that, since we grow way more grain than needed if we eat it instead of feeding it to cows and cars, it’s still good to know your options.)
The roots contain starch, which has traditionally been used as a food ingredient in East Asia.
In Japan, the plant is known as kuzu and the starch named kuzuko. Kuzuko is used as in dishes including kuzumochi, mizu manjū, and kuzuyu.
In Vietnam, the starch called bột sắn dây is flavoured with pomelo oil and then used as a drink in the summer.
Kudzu is called gé gēn (Chinese: 葛根) in China, where it is cooked and eaten.
The flowers are used to make a jelly.
Roots, flowers, and leaves of Kudzu show antioxidant activity that suggests food uses.
Now I’ve known for a while that regular old green beans have edible leaves. The bunnies just love ‘em and I cooked up a pot once to see for myself. (They’re ‘ok’, but need some seasoning to make them interesting. Bacon is your friend ;-) They are eaten as a ‘pot herb’ in Africa too. So it didn’t take me long to wonder: Any recipes for this stuff?
Next time I’m in The South, I’m going to try a pot of ‘em and see; so would be good to have ideas how to cook it. The same recipes might also help give some interest to regular old green bean leaves and / or runner bean leaves. A quick search turned up many pages, so somebody is eating this stuff.
And there is a LOT of it. Those “starchy roots” make it hard to kill, as just nipping the vines won’t do it. But a starchy root that you can eat? Well, that can be nice to know if lost in the boonies down South…
Kudzu is a perennial vine native to Southeast Asia, primarily subtropical and temperate regions of China, Japan, and Korea, with trifoliate leaves composed of three leaflets. Five species in the genus Pueraria (P. montana, P. lobata, P. edulis, P. phaseoloides and P. thomsoni) are closely related and kudzu populations in the United States seem to have ancestry from more than one of the species.
Just to note in passing that here we have another example of the “species barrier” being “only a suggestion”… It also means that any bug that eats it will need to be specific to Kudzu, but not specific to a single type…
Each leaflet is large and ovate with two to three lobes each and hair on the underside. The leaves have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, which can supply up to 95% of leaf nitrogen to the plant in poor soils. Along the vines are nodes, points at which stems or tendrils can propagate to increase support and attach to structures. As a twining vine, kudzu uses stems or tendrils that can extend from any node on the vine to attach to and climb most surfaces. In addition, the nodes of the kudzu vine have the ability to root when exposed to soil, further anchoring the vine to the ground. The roots are tuberous and are high in starch and water content, and the twining of the plant allows for less carbon concentration in the construction of woody stems and greater concentration in roots, which aids root growth. The roots can account for up to 40% of total plant biomass.
So you can get a “leafy green” AND a source of starch / energy. (Wonder if you can make Kudzu Beer from the roots?…)
Sidebar: A quick search showed one beer maker started giving it a try back in 2009 and another has made some (but a quick glance didn’t say how much of the ‘stuff’ in the bottle was kudzu. One complication is that the roots have a medicinal in them that is reputed to cure “binge drinking” so that might cut down on sales ;-)
Generally, it looks like more work than it is worth to dig up the roots for beer. But if you have a tractor…
OK, back at the main thread…
From the “Your Government In Action” department, subtitled “this time for sure!”:
The kudzu plant was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Kudzu was introduced to the Southeast in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition. The vine was widely marketed in the Southeast as an ornamental plant to be used to shade porches, and in the first half of the 20th century, kudzu was distributed as a high-protein content cattle fodder and as a cover plant to prevent soil erosion. The Soil Erosion Service recommended the use of kudzu to help control erosion of slopes which led to the government-aided distribution of 85 million seedlings and government-funded plantings of kudzu which paid $19.75 per hectare. By 1946, it was estimated that 1,200,000 hectares (3,000,000 acres) of kudzu had been planted. When boll weevil infestations and the failure of cotton crops drove farmers to move from rural to urban districts, kudzu plantings were left unattended. The climate and environment of the Southeastern United States allowed the kudzu to grow virtually unchecked. In 1953 the United States Department of Agriculture removed kudzu from a list of suggested cover plants and listed it as a weed in 1970. By 1997, the vine was placed on the “Federal Noxious Weed List”. Today, kudzu is estimated to cover 3,000,000 hectares (7,400,000 acres) of land in the southeastern United States, mostly in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi. It has been recorded in Nova Scotia, Canada, in Columbus, Ohio, and in all five boroughs of New York City.
I note that the Ohio and New York City listing says ‘this is not just a Southern thing any more’.
That “US Kudzu” link has a bit more on ‘uses’:
In the United States, kudzu has been used as livestock feed, in fertilizer, and in erosion control, and the vines have been used for folk art. In China, kudzu root is used in herbal remedies, teas, and the treatment of alcohol related problems. The efficacy of the treatment of alcohol related problems is currently under question, but experiments show promising results. In Japan, the kudzu root starch (or kuzu root starch) extracted from kudzu roots is used in cooking and natural medicines, and it is used to make hay that sick animals will eat. The starch is used in Japanese cuisine, and it is considered the “world’s greatest cooking starch”. Kudzu is also used as a food crop in Java, Sumatra, and Malay, and can be found in Puerto Rico and South America.
OK, add South America to the list of places outside the native Asia.
The main kudzu wiki has some notes on ‘medicinal’ uses, but doesn’t say much about preparation or dose. I’ll leave that for some other day (being as I don’t have any around here anyway); but realize that you likely want to cook this stuff to denature any active biologicals unless you are looking for a medicinal aspect.
The Harvard Medical School is studying kudzu as a possible way to treat alcoholic cravings, by turning an extracted compound from the herb into a medical drug. The mechanism for this is not yet established, but it may have to do with both alcohol metabolism and the reward circuits in the brain.
Kudzu also contains a number of useful isoflavones, including daidzein (an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent) and daidzin (structurally related to genistein). Kudzu is a source of the isoflavone puerarin. Kudzu root compounds can affect neurotransmitters (including serotonin, GABA, and glutamate). It has shown value in treating migraine and cluster headaches. It is recommended by some for allergies and diarrhea.
In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), where it is known as gé gēn (Chinese: 葛根), kudzu is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs. It is used to treat tinnitus, vertigo, and Wei syndrome (superficial heat).
Kudzu has traditionally been used as a remedy for alcoholism and hangover in China. The root was used to prevent excessive consumption, while the flower was supposed to detoxify the liver and alleviate the symptoms afterwards. Some TCM hangover remedies are marketed with kudzu as one of their active ingredients. This has also been a common use in areas of the Southeastern United States.
It has also shown potential in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease.
It may help diabetes and cardiovascular disease
As with most things “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, it may be no effect at all, or it may take a large dose of a particular part, or it just might work. Or not. YMMV…
So folks interested in medicinal aspects will likely want to do more research before having that salad or raw roots.
This link says that the seeds are not edible, but also gives a useful clue on how to identify the plant (other than it being a mountain of green bean leaves from a tuberous root ;-)
The only thing about kudzu I don’t like is the smell of the flowers in bloom: It smells exactly like the very cheap, very intense grape-flavored chemical gum kids chew. You can detect it from hundreds of feet away. Very strong, but good for identifying. If you like that aroma let your nose guide you.
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 a jelly — a taste between apple and peach — 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 or pickled them or make a make syrup. Raw roots can be cooked in a fire, 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 thickener, a cream or tofu. Kudzu is used to make soaps, lotions, rope, twine, baskets, wall paper, paper, fuel and compost. It can also be baled like hay with most grazing animals liking it, especially goats. Only the seeds are not edible.
Kudzu, to someone not familiar with it, does have a couple of look-alikes, such as the Desmodium rotundifolium, or the Ticktrefoil. Kudzu has very hairy young stems, the D. rotundifolium does not… that and that kudzu goes wild and outgrows it. The hog peanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata, may be mistaken for young kudzu vines, but it does not have hairy stems or climbs into trees. The key is to look for hairy stems on the young kudzu, and when it blossoms follow the grape aroma.
Looks like my kind of site. How to “eat the weeds” is good advice… and useful information in ‘hard times’. Even has a “lost in the woods” way to eat the roots (along with many of the recipes listed below from other sites):
Kudzu Root Sucker
In a survival situation, any kudzu root between 1/2 to 3/4 inches in diameter can be washed, cut at both ends to a length of about 6 inches, and then all the exterior bark should be scrapped off. The raw root can then be sucked on to gradually remove all its internal nutrients. Only suck the nutrients out of the root. The root is wood. Wood is NOT digestible. Do NOT eat the wood.
Kudzu Root Tea
The thin, tender young roots can be dug up, washed, diced, boiled, and strained to make a tea.
Has a nice picture of the roots and says that getting the starch out of them is a bit of work.
This site has some good advice about watching out for critters in the vines while harvesting, and then gets into the recipes:
Kudzu leaves and tender vine tips may be boiled the same way you boil spinach.
Boiled kudzu leaves mix well with other cooked greens including spinach and young poke sallet leaves. (Note: Young poke sallet leaves must be boiled three times in clean water prior to eating.)
Boiled kudzu leaves blend well with cooked rice and many cooked wild meats.
Fresh kudzu leaves may be processed in a pressure cooker following a spinach canning recipe, and stored in canning jars for future consumption.
I’m especially happy to see a reference to canning it. Canning spinach is a long slow hot cook and ought to soften tough leaves about as much as can be done. I’d likely still cut out the main vein down the middle of the leaves anyway. Given how much Kudzu is out there, though, it ought not be a problem just picking enough of the young and tender bits. Also has a nice bit of advice on making the fresh leaves less ‘fuzzy’. (Something I’ve noticed with some green bean and runner bean leaves too).
In the early spring and throughout the growing season, harvest the very end of an established kudzu vine where the new growth is forming small shoots and young leaves (called runners). Only the young leaves and vine tips are tender enough for human consumption. The older leaves and vines are too tough for the human digestive system.
Wash the kudzu thoroughly in cool water. Then soak the kudzu for 20 minutes in some clean cool water with a little salt added. Rinse and drain. Process immediately or store in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container.
Kudzu leaves have a soft fuzz on them. The fuzz is offensive to most people when eaten raw. The fuzz wilts quickly when cooked. Therefore, briefly dip the fresh leaves in some boiling water and then immediately dip in cold water. The fuzz will wilt, the appearance of the leaves will change, but the taste will not have changed.
Also some advice on roots being more a winter harvest. So it’s a year round food… Leaves when growing, roots when slow / frosted.
Kudzu roots are normally harvested in the winter months. Only a kudzu root that was started from a seedling will produce a root that contains a good quantity and quality of starch. Good kudzu starch roots may weigh up to 200 pounds and be as long as 8 feet. The vast majority of kudzu roots are formed when an established vine touches the ground. Most of the roots growing near the surface are NOT high quality. Most kudzu roots look like tree roots and are NOT edible.
OK, so being a bit picky about the root may matter. On the other hand, getting 200 lbs of edibles, even if a lot of work and being fussy to prepare, can be worth a lot in a ‘lost and starving’ situation. Given the description, it sounds like there may be two types of roots. Feeders that are more woody (suck the juices) and a storage root, likely at the main crown, with more starch in it. At least, that’s what I’d expect until digging some up showed otherwise.
These folks also say to only use the small tender leaves, that the big ones are too tough. Tough usually just means you need to cook it longer and / or add some baking soda to the water (but not too much or too long or you get mush…) That was more or less my opinion of regular bean leaves, too. No real competition for spinach or chard, but edible, especially the young leaves. So I’d expect this to be about the same. In an emergency situation, it ought to be fine even for the big tough leaves.
They list a “Kudzu Blossom Jelly” along with a “Kudzu Tea” and even “Deep Fried Kudzu Leaves” that’s basically a flower batter dip and into the frier. Also a Kudzu Quiche that looked interesting, and rather like a traditional spinach quiche. Then there was this Rolled Leaves dish that looked like it had the most ‘leaves / unit’ or ‘leaves as the main theme’. It looks like they are being swapped for grape leaves in a Greek / Italian lamb dish:
Rolled Kudzu Leaves
1 can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt
3 cloves garlic, cut in half
Juice of 3 lemons
Bacon Grease (optional)
Stuffing ingredients: 1 cup rice, rinsed in water
1 pound ground lamb or lean beef
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon of allspice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Gather about 30 medium-sized young kudzu leaves. Make sure area has not been sprayed with chemicals to kill the Kudzu.
Wash leaves. Drop into salted boiling water. Boil a 2-3 minutes, separating leaves. Remove to a plate to cool. Remove heavy center stems from the leaves by using a knife and cutting down each side of the stem to about the middle of the leaf. Combine all stuffing ingredients and mix well.
Push cut sides together and fill with 1 teaspoon stuffing and roll in the shape of a cigar. Place something in bottom of a large pan so that rolled leaves will not sit directly on the bottom of the pan. Bacon grease is great for seasoning.
Arrange Kudzu rolls alternately in opposite directions. When all are in the pot, pour in a can diced tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 3 cloves of garlic, cut in half. Press down with an inverted dish and add water to reach dish. Cover pot and cook on medium for 30 minutes. Add lemon juice and cook 10 minutes more.
Has what looks like the same / similar recipes for jelly and rolled leaves, but also has a recipe for “Kudzu Wine” and a Kudzu Fried Chicken using the ‘root powder’. They say to buy it in health food stores, but I’d expect it can be made at home, too.
Have some mulled cider and lemonade recipes, using the powder, but also some newspaper clips that talk about some restaurants having Kudzu on the menu and even a Kudzu Pineapple desert sauce; so this stuff looks fairly flexible.
I especially liked the idea of this “Stir Fried Kudzu” as I’m fond of stir fry and it would likely taste pretty good. Heck, old shoe with enough onions and soy sauce would taste pretty good ;-)
You can click on it for a bigger version. I notice that down in the lower right it says you can get more information about the “Kudzu Festival”… So I suspect a lot of Southerners may already have known that Kudzu was edible. OK, so I’m playing catch up ;-)
It’s just nice to realize that in a real food crisis, folks all over The South will be up to their eyeballs in ‘greens’ and ‘starchy roots’ if they so desire.
It’s also nice to know that if lost in the boonies in The South, it’s likely food is all around you. (Hmmm… maybe watch out for YOU being food… “Gator Kudzu Rolls” has a nice ring to it ;-) As does “Crawdad Kudzu Stir Fry”… Hey, ‘survival’ doesn’t have to be primitive ;-)
I also find it an interesting statement about our ‘modern times’ when one of our larger problems is a runaway food plant that is all over the place, for free, and folks are not bothering to collect and eat it; but instead are trying to eradicate it. Seems to me that folks on welfare could be given a bus ride to clean locations, and pick a big bag each, then clip the older tough vines at the rooting nodes. Finally, one guy with a power tool can ‘clip the top’ of the root (from which it regrows) to finish off that plant. Looks to me like a “win win” with folks getting food, some exercise, and a check; along with the State getting something for their money while the rest of us get the weed problem addressed. Heck, take along a field kitchen and teach folks how to prepare it while making lunch for them, too. I know, it would cost more for the buses, insurance, equipment, minders, etc. than it costs to just hand them a check. But perhaps the society at large would learn something about food and self reliance along the way.
OK, next time I’m down South: Note to self – bring pressure cooker, wok, and soy sauce.