Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is the single biggest scourge of the southern landscape. Vines can grow to the top of the tallest trees and head back down again, all in a single season.
It can choke out trees and landscaping almost before the problem is realized. Park a car next to a vigorous plant and it won’t be visible in a few weeks.
The species is tough to deal with because most herbicides that kill the Kudzu will also injure or kill the strangled plant. Spraying the vine could destroy the trellis so to speak.
Kudzu is a member of the bean family and has large trifoliolate (3-part) leaves with tendrils that wrap around anything they meet. Beautiful clusters of pink to purple flowers smell like grape flavored candy. Bees love them. Vigorous roots can be nine feet deep and seven inches thick.
This menace was brought here in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The large leaves and sweet-smelling blooms mesmerized plant enthusiasts who wanted it in their gardens.
About 50 years later it was promoted for livestock feed and in the 1930’s was pitched as a soil conservation savior. In 1972 it was officially declared a weed. Since that time the legacy has spread further.
So do we surrender and accept our fate? Of course not; we eat it. Three parts of kudzu are edible. When In the spring emerging young shoots make great table fare.
Cook them briefly like you would spinach, and don’t let them get too mature. Keep clipping them. They contain more protein than most greens.
Some people dip young shoots in their favorite breading mix and fry them like okra or green tomatoes. Others stir-fry them and serve them over rice.
Later in the year when the plants are flowering harvest some. The flowers can be eaten fresh in a salad. They give it some color. While the blooms smell like grapes they taste only slightly sweet.
Another use for the flowers is to make tea from them. Let a handful of flowers steep in a cup of boiling water for a few minutes and sweeten it if you like. Some people even make wine out of sweetened kudzu tea.
The final part of the plant that is prized by some is the root. These are full of starch that is extracted and can be used like corn starch or arrowroot.
Harvest your roots in the winter and choose large healthy ones at least an inch thick. Wash them thoroughly and cut them into pieces small enough to feed through a blender without bogging it down. Add enough water to make a puree.
Strain this puree, squeezing out as much water as possible. Add more water and repeat the mixing and straining process. Let the liquid portion settle. The starch will collect on the bottom of the container. Purify it by adding water, stirring, settling, and pouring off the liquid.
Use this starch in its moist state or dry it in the oven or a dehydrator. Store starch in a sealed container in a cool dark place.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.