Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kudzu, Miracle Vine

"Kudzu Angel" by Sgt. Yates

This scene above may not be familiar if you don't live in the Southeastern United States, but it is a legume/vine called Kudzu, and known by many other names... the Miracle Vine, Foot-a-Night Vine, Mile-a-Minute Vine, and most commonly: The Vine That Ate the South.

I grew up hearing "Close your windows at night to keep kudzu out of the house" and it's not a joke. It is a seriously invasive vine that can grow as much as a foot per day in summer and 60 feet per year, covering anything and everything in its path including houses and vehicles. It destroys valuable forests by cutting off the sunlight to the trees.

Kudzu on Trees, Atlanta, GA

Kudzu was introduced from Japan in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, promoted for forage and erosion control, and as an ornamental plant for its lovely and fragrant flower. Unfortunately, the kudzu pests were not introduced along with it, nor did anyone know the southeast US would be an ideal environment for it to spread out of control. Kudzu now covers 8,000 - 12,000 square miles in the US, and adds an additional 150,000 acres every year. Lost cropland and control costs run in excess of $500 million annually.

Ever since the Civilian Conservation Control planted it widely from 1935 to the early 1950's, people have been trying to find uses for it, or how to get rid of it. The leaves do make low-quality forage but it is difficult to cut and bale due to the thick vines; it makes decent grazing especially for goats, but over-grazing will kill out the stands in 3-4 years.

It's not 100% bad, though. Like many weeds, the deep taproot of kudzu brings up valuable minerals from the subsoil to the topsoil, thereby improving it, and since it is a legume, it 'fixes' nitrogen in the soil. Now, if we could just control it or use it better...

The roots contain a starch, which can be made into a flour, used as a food ingredient in East Asia. In the US you can find kudzu blossom jelly and syrup, and creative basketry made from the pliable vines. (It may prove very useful for survival if one has to live off the land!)

Kudzu has been traditionally used as a remedy for alcoholism and hangovers in China; the root used to prevent excessive consumption and the flower thought to detox the liver and alleviate symptoms. Harvard Medical School is now studying kudzu as a possible way to treat alcohol cravings by turning an extract from the plant into a medical drug, but it may take years.

Meanwhile, keep your windows closed at night!


  1. Darius,

    Interesting Photo of the Kudzu Angel very unique, it does look like an Angel of sorts. I wrote a Collage Paper on the Kudzu vine a few years back . Many people do not know where or how the Kudzu came to be here in the U.S.A. Did you Also Know there is a Plant in Tennessee that is making ethanol from the Kudzu vine now I think it is around Nashville, TN. Or close to it .

    Interesting Read

    Kudzu Bound

  2. I think I did read somewhere they were experimenting with kudzu for ethanol but I had forgotten that tidbit. Didn't know it was now actually in production.

  3. Very interesting reading. I'm enjoying your blog.


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