Kudzu as a Renewable Resource: History, Nutrition, & Other Uses

Updated on September 10, 2019
Besarien profile image

Caffeine fiend, forager, and science nerd currently in South Florida.

Kudzu invades Port Gibson, Mississippi.
Kudzu invades Port Gibson, Mississippi. | Source

What is Kudzu?

Kudzu, also called the Japanese arrowroot (though it is no relation to Maranta arundinacea, the traditional arrowroot) is any of a variety of plants in the genus Pueraria of the pea family Fabaseae. These varieties are all perennial vines native to Asia and are considered noxious weeds in much of the rest of the world.

Kudzu vines grow so quickly that it is highly invasive in warm climates. The plant has multiple runners that spread in all directions, each growing about one foot per day. The vines climb up and over trees and shrubs competing for sunlight. Kudzu kills many native plants by heavily shading them with a thick canopy of large leaves. The vine wreaks damage on infrastructure and property.

A Timeline for Kudzu in the United States

  • 1876—The Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia introduced kudzu to the US. Countries from all over the world celebrated the 100th birthday of the U.S by showcasing exhibits. The Japanese government created a garden of their native plants. The velvety leaves and fragrant magenta blooms of the kudzu vine delighted the American gardeners in attendance.
  • 1883—The New Orleans Exposition introduced the flowering vine to the Southeastern US.
  • From 1883 to 1953—The US government and private gardening enthusiasts promoted kudzu as an ornamental plant perfect for shading Southern porches.
  • Early half of the 20th century—The US raised kudzu as a high in protein feed for cattle and promoted it as a miracle ground cover effective against soil erosion.
  • By 1946—3 million acres of kudzu flourished through government-aided distribution of 85 million seedlings and government funding which paid planters nearly twenty dollars per hectare.
  • 1953—The USDA withdrew kudzu from its list of suggested ground covers.
  • 1970—The USDA listed kudzu as a weed.
  • 1997—Kudzu entered the Federal Noxious Weed List.
  • Today—Kudzu covers 7.5 million acres, many in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Wild kudzu reaches as far north as Ontario and as far west as Texas.

Identifying Features

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A close-up of kudzu leaves.A kudzu in full blossom. Kudzu pods grow in clusters and are covered in fuzz.
A close-up of kudzu leaves.
A close-up of kudzu leaves. | Source
A kudzu in full blossom.
A kudzu in full blossom. | Source
Kudzu pods grow in clusters and are covered in fuzz.
Kudzu pods grow in clusters and are covered in fuzz. | Source

How to Eradicate or Control Kudzu

If you find this plant on your property, please don't spend your money on environmentally unfriendly poisons trying to get rid of it. The most brutal commercial herbicide won't budge it.

Even the most effective one currently on the market can take up to 10 years of repeated usage to kill a single kudzu plant. Considering the rate at which the plants spread, herbicide isn't a sane option. Plus, using herbicide takes away a much more environmentally friendly option that actually does work- eating it.

Instead of trying to poison the plant, enjoy kudzu leaves as nutritious, delicious, free salads and stew greens. If vegetables really aren't your favorite food group, get some good temporary fencing and goats. Let the goats eat your kudzu down to the ground for you. You can earn extra cash selling cheese and goat's milk, then resell the goats when the kudzu finally stops trying to resurrect itself.

After a few times of the goats grazing the plant back to its woody stem, the root system depletes the sufficient reserve energy required to produce new leaves. At this point, the whole plant dies. If kudzu is your resident vampire, then goats are the equivalent letting in the sunlight.

Goats are nature's best weed control.
Goats are nature's best weed control. | Source

How to Harvest Kudzu as a Food Source

For thousands of years, kudzu has been an important source of food in Asia. The edible parts of the plant are its leaves, flower blossoms, vine tips, and roots.

Use these tips to harvest kudzu for food:

  1. Take a buddy with you for safety. This person can wait in the car, but will be your emergency back-up should you take a tumble or suffer a snakebite.
  2. Dress appropriately and go prepared with snipping and digging tools.
  3. Bring plenty of unscented garbage bags to tie and transport cuttings inside. You can reuse the bags for garbage later.
  4. Wear long sleeves and jeans, heavy socks, sturdy gloves, rugged boots with leg protection and good traction. Tuck in all your clothing and wear a repellant to keep off bugs and snakes.
  5. Walk softly. Kudzu fields can hide ditches, holes, rocks, any kind of sharp debris, even rusty cars and abandon houses.
  6. If the property is owned by someone else, ask permission first. Almost no one will mind you removing some of their kudzu for them. They will likely be grateful. Do let them know that they can eat it, too.
  7. Select kudzu plants that are not so near to a highway that they are contaminated by road dust and automobile exhaust fumes. Choose only healthy, happy looking kudzu that has not been sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, or other chemicals.
  8. Avoid insects, spiders, snakes and other animals that may be living in or feeding on kudzu patches. Also beware poison ivy and poison oak, which both can resemble kudzu, and may be growing alongside or even entangling with it. When in doubt, just remember that if the entire vine and leaves aren't covered in fuzz, then it isn't kudzu.
  9. Throughout the peak growing season, starting in early spring, harvest the very ends of established kudzu vines where new growth produces young shoots, called runners, and small leaves. The young growth will feel tender enough to be eaten raw in salads, and is. Depending on what you are going to do with it, you may want flowers, and medium and larger leaves too. I keep all that separate in different bags. It saves having to sort it out later.

A honey bee harvests nectar from a kudzu blossom.
A honey bee harvests nectar from a kudzu blossom. | Source

How to Cook and Eat Kudzu

  1. First, wash kudzu thoroughly in cool water. I soak mine first in my yard in bins, so anything still living in it has a sporting chance to swim, crawl, slither, or fly away.
  2. Then, I bring it in and soak it in a salted water bath for 20 minutes or so. Feel free to do this step all over again for good measure until you feel sure the kudzu is clean enough to eat.
  3. Drain and rinse.
  4. At this point, I use a salad spinner which helps to dry it off quickly. Use the clean kudzu immediately or store some in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a day or two.

If you have more than you can eat in that time, you can stew it and freeze it, liquid and all, for use when you next make a soup, stew, or big pot of beans. You can also spread it on a sheet pan, and dry it on a low oven setting for about 20 minutes to make an herbal tea.

Why Eat Kudzu?

Kudzu is not native to this country and causes environmental and economic damage to the US. Kudzu has good nutritional value.

Kudzu is free. It tastes delicious. There are no good reasons not to eat it!

Kudzu Uses and Nutritional Value

Flowers can be used raw in salads or to decorate cupcakes and other desserts. They can also be candied, pickled, battered, deep fried, or used to make excellent jelly and pancake syrup. Brew them fresh or dried into a pleasantly fruity tea.

Vine tips and leaves are good sources of fiber and iron. Vine tips can be served like asparagus or chopped into salsa, soups. casseroles, and quiche.

The youngest leaves are great in salads and on sandwiches. Mid-size leaves can be steamed like kale and stuffed like cabbage or grape leaves. Older leaves can be deep fried crispy and eaten like potato chips or fried as taco shells or spring roll/egg roll wraps. Brew the fresh or dried leaves for mellow herbal tea.

Kudzu is covered in soft fuzz not unlike peaches or okra. If you find the texture of the fuzz too off-putting, blanche the leaves quickly in boiling water. This will make them smooth and ready for use in a salad or a bacon, kudzu, and tomato sandwich.

Young kudzu tubers are great for roasting.
Young kudzu tubers are great for roasting. | Source

Kudzu roots are a versatile starch. They are high in fiber, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and D.

Small roots can be baked, roasted, mashed, or fried soft like french fries or crispy like potato chips. The older, larger roots are woodier. They need to be dehydrated and pulverized into kudzu root powder before they are useful in cooking.

Kudzu root powder is a major export for Japan and Korea. It thickens soups and sauces and serves as a vegan substitute for gelatin in aspics and in candy-making. Use the powder to make wonderfully crispy tempura batter, great for deep-frying anything including small root slices, shoots, and flowers.

What Are the Crafting and Industrial Uses for Kudzu?

A kudzu seed has an outer coat that is extremely hard, making the seeds nearly unviable for spreading the plant. Cuttings and vines do that proficiently.

The seeds are perfect for drilling and stringing as beads though! They also can be used in bean bag furniture, stuffed animals, eye pillows, mosaics, and other crafts. Plant fibers from the vines can be made into linen-like fabrics, rope, baskets, wicker furniture, floor and wall coverings, and all manner of paper products.

In agriculture, the plants make excellent grazing to raise cattle, horses, sheep, chickens, ducks, rabbits, hogs, and goats. Kudzu can be turned into an especially nutritious high-protein hay excellent for winter feed.

Young kudzu roots can be brewed into beer or used for producing ethanol for cars. Unlike corn and grains, kudzu does not require care, watering, or fertilizer to grow, nor is it already an important food crop for humans in North America.

Tote bags made from woven kudzu fiber.
Tote bags made from woven kudzu fiber. | Source

Our Future With Kudzu

Despite our best efforts over the last sixty years, kudzu is probably here in the United States to stay. Instead of denying that reality, we should turn our attention to environmentally sound efforts of control. At the same time, we can't afford to continue to neglect the opportunities that the kudzu invasion presents to us. We should try to find as many ways possible to use this ever-renewing resource for the good of us all.

Hear What Some Local Experts Have to Say About Kudzu

Have You Ever Bought Anything Made out of Kudzu?

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Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • Besarien profile imageAUTHOR

        Besarien 

        2 months ago from South Florida

        Hey Au fait! I've got about all the career I can manage at the moment but I think you have a really good idea for somebody. Maybe someday for me! Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time.

      • Au fait profile image

        C E Clark 

        2 months ago from North Texas

        I really enjoyed learning about kudzu in this article. Very informative, and full of great ideas for using kudzu. I think you could expand on this article and write some additional articles including kudzu recipes and directions for making kudzu tote bags, and so much more.

        I don't think I've seen many articles on the many uses of kudzu. Most of the articles I've seen were mainly complaining about it with no real solution for getting rid of it. This may be an opening for you to become the kudzu expert and authority on how to manage and benefit from kudzu. Plan some demonstrations on how to use it, even serve it at the demonstration, and lecture on kudzu. Have some craft demonstrations too, not just food demos. I'm sure there are many people who would like information and ideas like you write about here. Develop and expand your ideas into a career. Think about it . . .

      • Besarien profile imageAUTHOR

        Besarien 

        2 months ago from South Florida

        Hello Kenneth! I do apologize for the long delayed reply. Good to finally meet you! Congratulations on your playhouse. What an amazing gift to your whole community! With a name like that it is sure to be around forever! Living in Alabama you must be a certified expert on kudzu. Thank you so much for your kind words about the article and for stopping by to say hi.

      • kenneth avery profile image

        Kenneth Avery 

        2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

        Hi, Besarien ,

        Again, LOVED this hub. Keep up the tremendous work.

        Peace.

        Keep in touch.

      • Robert Sacchi profile image

        Robert Sacchi 

        2 years ago

        Thank you for making us aware of eating kudzu and other ways of getting rid of it.

      • kenneth avery profile image

        Kenneth Avery 

        2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

        Hi, Besarien,

        I enjoyed your Kudzu hub very much.

        Two facts: I lived in and grew up with this plant that devours everything in sight, but our farmers started baling it and feeding it to our beef cattle.

        Two: I, along with three friends, founded a community theater and did productions on stage for the public and gave our monies to charity.

        We named our troupe, the Kudzu Playhouse.

        I am so glad to meet you.

        Keep in touch.

      • Besarien profile imageAUTHOR

        Besarien 

        2 years ago from South Florida

        Hi Shannon! Thanks for your comment. I know! I lived in NC for years before I found out. I was shocked that nobody seemed to know, even people born there. The ones who did knew about jelly but not the rest. What don't they teach it in schools? Put it on the news? There are hungry people living surrounded by free food.

      • shanmarie profile image

        Shannon Henry 

        2 years ago from Texas

        I wish I had known kudzu was edible when I lived down in southeast TX. It was hard to control and grows so quickly! But it was on the property for many, many years and I doubt it is going anywhere anytime soon.

      • Andy Lee Lawson profile image

        Andrew Lawson 

        3 years ago from Knoxville, TN

        In Tennessee, we've been eating weeds for generations. And, believe it or not, the church I attend purchased a goat to eat the kudzu growing on the backside of the property. That was one happy goat. Kudzu doesn't taste badly either. Mixed with a spicy green and served with a salty meat is my recommendation. Good, useful hub.

      • poetryman6969 profile image

        poetryman6969 

        3 years ago

        I love the idea of turning trash into treasure. Kudzu, fire ants, politicians, surely there is a use for all of them!

      • Besarien profile imageAUTHOR

        Besarien 

        4 years ago from South Florida

        Hi Supuni Fernando and Blackspaniel1! Thanks for your comments.

      • Supuni Fernando profile image

        Supuni Fernando 

        4 years ago from Colombo, Sri Lanka

        Now this is educating, we need more ideas like this to be productive.

      • Blackspaniel1 profile image

        Blackspaniel1 

        4 years ago

        I have never heard of this, but controlling it seems to be a problem.

      • Easy Exercise profile image

        Kelly A Burnett 

        4 years ago from United States

        I knew of Kudzu but never knew 90% of these facts! Great hub! Voted up! Keep up the great work! The video song is fun! Appreciate adding a bit of humor too!

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        4 years ago from Oklahoma

        Kudzu is one of the most amazing and prolific plants in the world. The only problem with it, if you want it you better really want it, because once plant it it's all you have:-)

        Great read.

      • Au fait profile image

        C E Clark 

        4 years ago from North Texas

        Another stellar hub! This is fantastic. So well written and so full of great information. You have some excellent ideas for this stuff.

        Must say when you were describing how to dress and prepare for harvesting kudzu it sounded like you were talking about Texas. Given all the nasties we have here it always surprises me when people go out in their short shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. My late husband was a native Texan through and through, and he thought these people going out hiking, etc., wearing very little were crazy too. We have water moccasins and rattle snakes and coral snakes, and have you read my article about the wolf spider yet? They get pretty big here.

        This really is a great article and easily deserves to be a Hub of the Day. Every one of your articles that I have read so far is first class top notch.

        Voted up and awesome and sharing with followers.

      • Dolores Monet profile image

        Dolores Monet 

        4 years ago from East Coast, United States

        I've always thought of kudzu as the devil. It's terrible and an invasive monster. But your suggestions are great. We can just eat it all up! And the basket made of kudzu is gorgeous! Voted up and shared!

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is a very interesting hub. I loved learning more about kudzu. Thank you for sharing all the information about this plant.

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        4 years ago from Brazil

        Wow, I had never heard of this plant before. This is what happens when an invasive species is brought in. I love the fact that people are making things and eating. If you can't beat it, eat it.

      • Suzanne Day profile image

        Suzanne Day 

        4 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

        This was an amazing read. I'd never heard of Kudzu but I can see that it would be a beneficial plant if it happened to grow on your property. Goats do seem to be a useful answer to the weed issue, but since you can eat it, Kudzu might be a boon for those who need a free meal (Kudzu tubers, anyone?). I wonder if Kudzu tubers would make good chips? Voted awesome and up!

      • grand old lady profile image

        Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

        4 years ago from Philippines

        I recognized that plant from its leaf. We have a few in our village. How nice to know more about it through your article:).

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 

        4 years ago from Florida

        I grew up in Georgia, and Kudzu was everywhere!! I don't see much here in S. Florida (maybe it gets too hot for it). I never knew one could eat Kudzu, though. I learned a lot from your interesting article.

        Voted UP, etc. and shared.

      • Besarien profile imageAUTHOR

        Besarien 

        4 years ago from South Florida

        Hi Oscarlites ! What a great comment! I think of it more as a Pet Zombie- slow and not too bright but it will catch you if you aren't careful. If you can't kill them you might as well try to enjoy them, right?

      • Oscarlites profile image

        Oscar Jones 

        4 years ago from Monroeville, Alabama

        ha, they use it to control erosion all over my county, and not realizing if you stand still too long there will be a kudzu vine sculpture in the shape of a human to show for it! but all that said, I really like your uptake on the down-low of kudza scari-mania! to bluntly put it out there, it doesn't have to be your enemy! it can be your vampire pet too! well, enough humor, huh! Yes I can see why the government bought into this plant originally and then turned around politically to name it on the desired endangered species! I DO like the idea of native baskets, and wall hangings, and other crafts from this plant. all I can say is lets get after it like it was the plague and lets make it all go away in the name of basketry, goat feed, and salads.. yes a very good idea you have! if there't any left at the turn of the 22 century, well then lets try to cross it with a Rhubarb, and call it the Kud-barb plant! then you could make pies, and jelly and other edibles! ok you want me to stop, right? thank God it stays put overnight and doesn't creep into the house!

        OH, Jackie, if you will make a mens wallet out it, I will purchase, if its less than five.00. Besarien, Resveratrol? wine? hmm.. call me when its made I want a taste!

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        4 years ago from The Beautiful South

        I would love to learn to make those purses from it! Have often said there is some realt money to be made with this product since it is so available; especially in the southeast.

      • aviannovice profile image

        Deb Hirt 

        4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

        Since this is such a good food and craft plant, it sounds like more of a boon if it can be controlled. I like the idea of the goats!

      • Vellur profile image

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 years ago from Dubai

        Never knew about this plant before I read your hub and as you say the best way would be to make use of this invasive plant in the best possible way. Informative and interesting, voted up.

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        4 years ago from Massachusetts

        Hi Besarien. How interesting. We do not have kudzu up here in New England that I am aware of but we do see it when we are in Florida. I was not aware that it is edible. I'll have to give it a try next time we are down there. Great job, thanks for the info.

      • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image

        Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

        4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

        Interesting hub and interesting solutions to the kudzu problem. Goats might be a good partial solution. I can't, however, imagine them eating enough kudzu to wipe it out completely. The same can be said for trying to eradicate it by using as a food source...a large family would need to eat a lot salads and tubers! Your suggestions about foraging - clothing, equipment, etc. - are spot on :-)

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        4 years ago from England

        How interesting! I had never heard of Kudzu before, but what a great idea to get goats to eat it instead of trying to kill the plant off which doesn't work, and as for making things from it, well that's such a great idea! fascinating hub, and I learned something new!

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        4 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Round up kills everything it touches and is a big NO NO for veggie gardens There is a Round up gel that they can apply by touch but even that I'd not use!

        As for the antioxidant properties of knotwood that's amazing. Just shows one man's trash is another man's treasure!

      • Besarien profile imageAUTHOR

        Besarien 

        4 years ago from South Florida

        I had no idea that Japanese knotwood is a significant source of resveratrol! As for red wine and peanuts neither is without its problems as a delivery system in every diet at least. I have a dear friend doing battle with Japanese knotwood near the border of Washington and Oregon. I will be sure to let her know about that. I know she eats about as much as she can eat already though.

        Commercial herbicide just makes me sad for whatever it is sprayed upon. You would think by now we would all know better. Last spring I saw my neighbor spaying Round-Up on a poor little clover in his own vegetable garden! Madness, I tell you. I mentioned that I thought it was a bad idea but he insists it is "safe as table salt." Hmm how much table salt exactly?

      • techygran profile image

        Cynthia 

        4 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

        Thank you Besarien! I appreciate your suggestion re the Japanese knotwood. I used to be involved with a supplement company that opted to source its resveratrol (high antioxidant plant substance) not from red wine, but from Japenese knotwood. The knotwood I know about around where we live grows on the ocean near us but is 'poisoned' by the civic 'gardeners' as part of their eradication campaign.

      • Besarien profile imageAUTHOR

        Besarien 

        4 years ago from South Florida

        Hi techygran! Thanks for your comment. I am so happy you found my article inspiring. In case Japanese Knotweed is a problem where you are, as it is in Washington state, you can eat the young growth in the spring in pies and muffins like you would use rhubarb. Afraid I don't know much about other invasive species that far north.

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        4 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        I look forward to the update on the article. You could however use it to make biodiesel as that uses a palm plant at the moment

      • Besarien profile imageAUTHOR

        Besarien 

        4 years ago from South Florida

        Hi allpurpose guru! Thanks for your excellent question. I know you can make beer out of small kudzu roots as easily as making beer out of potatoes or sweet potatoes. I am going to try to look into it and flesh out that part of the article.

      • Suhail and my dog profile image

        Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

        4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

        I have not seen or heard of it, but the sustainable usage and taming two birds with same song seems like a great idea.

        As a nature conservationist, who is anti-invasive species, I believe you have given us a perfect solution.

        Found useful and awesome! Voted up!

      • allpurposeguru profile image

        David Guion 

        4 years ago from North Carolina

        Interesting--and voted up.

        Your comment about using kudzu for ethanol especially caught my eye. Making ethanol from non-food sources has been a goal at least since President Bush (43) started pushing switch grass.

        Unfortunately, switch grass is very heavy and therefore expensive to transport. And it's very difficult to break it down chemically to isolate the sugars necessary to make ethanol. It hasn't yet proven either technologically financially viable.

        Is kudzu any different?

      • techygran profile image

        Cynthia 

        4 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

        Hi Besarian-- what a fascinating subject you undertook for this hub... I have used Kudzu as a sort of starch/thickener. I believe I learned about it when I took a Macrobiotic cooking class 20+ years ago. I love your multi-pronged approach to this plant, and ultimately, your 5 reasons to eat kudzo. I think I'm going to take a look at individual "invasive" plants here on this island and see if there is a more creative and useful way of dealing with them than now exists. Thank you for your inspiration! ~Cynthia

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        4 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        I think I'll leave off the eating!! Interesting though

      • m abdullah javed profile image

        muhammad abdullah javed 

        4 years ago

        Useful and interesting. You made it quite easy for us to understand how and why kudzu can be used as a renewable resource. Through its timeline and various shades, things appear to be quite handy. Thanks for sharing with us, Besarein. Voted up.

      • Besarien profile imageAUTHOR

        Besarien 

        4 years ago from South Florida

        Hi billybuc! Thanks for commenting! You are in the last state in the country that will get overrun with kudzu. It will probably still happen one day. It is a huge problem here in NC. I can't help but admire it all the same. You can burn it down to the ground. In a week, it comes right back. As weeds go, it is uncommonly useful.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I've heard of it but never seen it. I know it can be terribly invasive. I like your solutions.

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