There are these lush green vines that I have seen from many pictures and movies coming from the southeastern United States. They even have pretty purple flowers too. The plants are usually seen growing endlessly along highways and forests. What is the name of this interesting plant? It is kudzu ( scientific name: pueraria lobata), a Japanese native plant that has been labeled as “invasive” and is taking over the native plants of the area.
Purdue University’s Photo of the nice kudzu with pretty purple flowers.
The plant first came to the US as an ornamental plant in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Then in 1935 to 1953, farmers in the South were encouraged by the United States to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion. But in was declared as invasive by the US government by the mid 1950’s. The southeastern US has hot, humid summers, frequent rainfall, temperate winters and few hard freezes. So the conditions are almost perfect for the kudzus to keep on growing. In some ways, the plant reminds me of the end of the world when the vines start to take over cities and towns.
Michael Jon Jensen, Director of Publishing Technologies of the National Academies Press took this picture of kudzus taking over this abandoned Honda Civic. Looks like it is just in the edge of town too. Watch out!
But in Japan, they love to eat kudzu. Kudzu is high in fiber and protein and is a good source of vitamin A and D. The leaves and stems can be used as in salads and cook like other leafy vegetables. The roots are dried and then grounded to make powder. Kudzu powder is used in cooking to thicken soups and sauces. The flour is also used to coat food to be deep fried, such as tempura.
A Japanese beauty company, DHC, also uses Kudzu ( scientific name: pueraria lobata) root extract powder to help fight wrinkles. Here is one of their product description: “Kudzuâ€™s astonishing growth aside, its root extract is believed by some herbalists to contain antioxidant properties as well as nutritive isoflavones to help visibly firm skin and fight the appearance of wrinkles. It’s also a powerful humectant that attracts and retains moisture within the skin. Youâ€™ll find kudzu, as Pueraria lobata root extract, in DHC Revitalizing Moisture Strips: Eyesâ€”a concentrated under-eye treatment to promote a brighter, more youthful look in one of your skinâ€™s most delicate areas.” DHC also found that Kudzu is a natural skin illuminant. They include kudzu in the Acerola and Alpha-Arbutin series.
It was also discovered recently that kudzu could be used to produce energy. A processing plant in Tennessee wants to turn it into ethanol. Kudzu is a great alternative to corn since it doesnâ€™t require irrigation and basically grows very fast. Agro*Gas plans to break ground on an ethanol producing plant in McMinn County or a surrounding county by end of the year and hopefully begin production in 2009. I just hope it doesn’t take more energy to turn it into ethanol. As I think the cleanest form of enery should come from electric, wind, and solar.
So there you go, Kudzu is more then just an annoying plant. It actually has more good things going for it. I hope to get a taste test of them on my next travel to the Southeastern U.S.