Driving through the south, it’s impossible to miss the signs of kudzu along the highway. The deep green leaves sprout as the vines climb toward the sun.
Nothing is safe from this invasive species. It can consume trees, abandoned architecture, vehicles, and entire ecosystems in the onslaught.
Nuisance plants usually get removed outright. But did you ever wonder if you could eat kudzu?
Let’s look at the facts and myths about this fast-growing plant.
Is the Invasive Kudzu Eating the South?
Kudzu is a pervasive sight in the American south. It’s gotten more traction than that, though. It’s now present in 32 of the 50 states. With this kind of success, we’d forgive you for thinking it’s a native plant. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
A climbing vine native to China and Japan, Kudzu first came to the United States in 1876. The Centennial Exposition first brought the plant to American soil in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s important to remember that until the mid-19th century, Japan and China were pretty isolated. Western scientists dove into the unknown flora from Asia with little understanding.
First introduced in the as a method to control erosion, the vegetation thrived in the warm climate. Growing a foot per day, it quickly outcompeted local plants. Its vines choke out native species by blocking out the sun. Now, all over the south, it threatens the outright extinction of native flora and insects.
Uncontrolled growth swallows whole forests in its growth. It’s easy to see why some say the species is “eating the south.” But with this much biomass, there has to be a use for it. Like rats in India and rabbits in Australia, locals found that this annoying vegetable made pretty good eating.
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Can Humans Consume Kudzu?
In China and Japan, where kudzu is native, the plant’s use in folk medicine is well documented. Japanese healers brew tea called kuzuyu using the leaves. Chinese healers use the roots to brew a tea called kakkonto. Throughout southeast Asia, the starchy roots thicken soups and traditional beverages.
Folks in the American south are nothing if not resourceful. Kudzu serves as animal forage and is a nutrient-dense addition to hay feed. However, human consumption in the U.S. isn’t typical despite how plentiful it is.
Not only can you eat the leaves, nearly every part of the plant is edible. It makes for versatile foraging, with spinach-like leaves, collard green vine tips, and starchy roots.
Benefits of Kudzu
Using kudzu for medicinal purposes has thousands of years of history. Chinese and Japanese healers used teas derived from the plant to help with headaches since ancient times. Other uses included controlling diabetes, reducing fever, and lessening menopause symptoms.
Western medicine requires more proof than thousands of years of use, however. In some studies, kudzu shows pain-reducing properties and may improve mental clarity. But clinical research in the west focus mainly on menopausal symptoms and alcoholism. Both areas have seen limited success, but a win is a win.
Like all herbal supplements, the FDA doesn’t evaluate claims, so don’t give up that insulin without talking to your doctor.
Generally, kudzu consumption doesn’t cause serious side effects. Most people can ingest supplements, but there are some drug interactions to be aware of.
The plant isn’t safe to consume if you have hormone-related cancer. That’s because it has chemical compounds known to interfere with some drugs used to treat breast cancers. They may also cause kidney and liver issues in sensitive individuals.
Some medications have a higher potentcy in the presence of kudzu. Anti-diabetic drugs and immune suppressors both showed negative interactions. In some patients, it amplifies the concentration of these medications.
If you’re concerned about consuming supplements, you should ask your doctor for guidance.
What Can You Make from Kudzu?
Kudzu vines are highly versatile when it comes to the kitchen. Other than the vine itself, every part of the plant is edible.
Like other heavy greens (spinach, collards, kale, and chard), the leaves are easy to substitute into your favorite recipes. Meanwhile, the roots are easy to roast like potatoes, and the blossoms are sweet and delicate.
Now for some of our favorite ways to use this pesky plant!
If you catch them at the right time of year, the plants red blossoms are practically begging for someone to eat them. A classic preparation, kudzu jelly is the perfect recipe.
With a flavor similar to grape jelly, most recipes follow the same formula. A mix of sugar, kudzu blossoms, pectin, and pepper, makes for a sweet and spicy spread.
Excellent fresh, it also holds up well to canning, so you can also enjoy it in winter. The final product looks and smells like grape preserves with a floral flavor that can’t be beaten.
We love mixing garlic, crispy bacon, and balsamic vinegar into our sauteed greens. You can also try them plain with just a bit of salt. Their flavor might inspire you to try something new with your recipe. Introduce some smoked ham or turkey, and your dish can take center stage!
One of the defining features of kudzu is the rapidly growth. If you’ve got the patience to collect them, the vine tips have a texture like other leafy vegetables. They’re delicious if you prepare them like traditional collards.
A quiche is always a winner if you want to impress the family. Our favorite quiche recipe includes spinach, ham, and cheddar. It’s an easy swap to replace spinach with kudzu leaves. Your family may not even be able to tell the difference!
Mix up eggs, cream, and other add-ins, and you’re halfway there. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes in a pie shell until set, and a classy brunch just has to cool. Of course, adding ham and cheese makes almost any vegetable taste better.
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A Tasty Way to Help The Environment
Once it was imported into the United States to control erosion, kudzu outgrew its usefulness by the 1950s. Because it’s dangerous to delicate ecosystems, humans and animals should jump at the chance to bite back. Using the invasive plant in recipes and traditional medicine may not take care of the explosive growth.
But for once, the vine that ate the South can get a taste of its own medicine. You can substitute kudzu in teas, salads, baked goods, and breakfast. They also go great in stirfries. However you try it, the floral, slightly spicy veggie won’t let you down.
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