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Kudzu: The Vine That Ate the South

Illustration by Hilary Hutter.

Illustration by Hilary Hutter.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

 –Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Kudzu quickly grows to enshroud acres of forest, smothering everything in its path.

Kudzu quickly grows to enshroud acres of forest, smothering everything in its path.

Living in Arkansas, it’s hard to not spot this aggressive vine that makes its way up trees and eventually blocks the sun from the roof-canopy down, engulfing every living tree, shrub, perennial, and weed in its path. Kudzu, Pueraria montana var. lobata, a plant that the southeastern half of the country has come to know too well, consumes an average of 120,000 acres of land annually!

Kudzu

Kudzu

So you may be asking yourself;

  1. How did this plant get here?
  2. Why is kudzu so out of control?
  3. And what, if anything, can it be used for?

Kudzu arrived in the United States—not naturally of course—but instead during the 1930s and 1940s when a branch of our government called the Soil Conservation Service (which today goes by the National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), a branch under the USDA) hired workers through the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant acres… and acres…and acres (roughly 1.2 million acres) of kudzu—which was then touted as the “miracle vine”—to control erosion.  The southeastern US has a similar climate to kudzu’s native land, southern China, except for one thing…when we brought it over here, we left behind all the native insects of China that keep this plant in check. Since then the vine has gone rampant, and today covers an estimated eight million acres!

Illustration by Hilary Hutter.

Illustration by Hilary Hutter.

So how do we control this beast?

The NRCS has four (very similar) recommendations: to thoroughly wet all leaves between July and October for successive years using either:  Escort (DuPont Chemical Company), Accord (Monsanto Chemical Company), Arsenal AC (American Cyanamid Company), or Garlon 4 (Dow AgroSciences), ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/AL/pdf/factsh/kudzu.pdf.

All that poison…despite the fact that a small herd of wild goats or wild sheep are known to devour an acre of kudzu in a single day! Unfortunately, herbicides aren’t that effective against kudzu, simply because once kudzu is rooted, the stems lose connection with each other within a year, allowing each stem to become a physiologically independent individual, thus requiring that all stems be treated or removed in order to eliminate a population.

Now, is there anything this plant could be used for?

Tasty kudzu quiche!

Tasty kudzu quiche!

Why yes…there is. Eat it, Eat it all!  Eattheweeds.com suggests that nearly every part of the plant is not only edible, but extremely nutritious! You can batter-fry the flowers and leaves like potato chips, shoots can be eaten like asparagus, blossoms can be used to make jelly or pickled, which they say taste like a cross between apples and peaches! Roots can be stripped of their bark and roasted like any other root veggie, or ground into flour.

So now at least you know that if you have this weed on your property, you won’t starve! Kudzu is also used to make rope, twine, baskets, paper, soap, lotion, and yes.. fuel!

Oh wait:  kudzu also helps to combat alcoholism! Harvard Medical School is attempting to single out a naturally occurring chemical from within the plant to combat alcoholism and binge drinking. They’re not sure which chemical, so until they bottle it and stalk grocery shelves, why not consume the entire root instead? Of course the Chinese have known this for some 2,000 years.

And thus, in conclusion, Mr. Emerson and I suggest this plant be taken off the USDA’s Noxious Plant List and instead harvested to feed the hungry, converted into an earth friendly bio-fuel, etc., etc.

Sincerely, Sam

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