Harvest the Strangler

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.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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