Food & Garden: The benefits of kudzu

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By Andrew Padula, Contributing Columnist and owner of Greer-based Padula's Plants:

Pueraria lobata (aka "kudzu")

Although it is currently growing out of control here in the Upstate, it's hard to deny the beauty and potential usefulness of kudzu. This is a plant in which almost all parts of it are edible, has been used as a powerful herb for thousands of years and has an extremely fast growth rate.

Utilizing all of the benefits that kudzu has to offer is a step in the right direction when it comes to controlling this impressive and misunderstood plant.

Controlling kudzu:

Taking steps to control kudzu is important. So why not begin taking these steps in a way that benefits people here in the Upstate, while at the same time helping to preserve the Upstate areas unique natural environment? This makes much more sense when compared to current control methods such as spraying kudzu with poison. Poison that also affects the many other species of plants the kudzu is growing on or near.

Pueraria lobata  is an apex plant species, which means not much gets in it's way on it's quest for survival. Kudzu ensures it's survival by growing up and over other plants around it, becoming the dominate plant in it's habitat and ensuring it's position in the sun. Consequently, any poison originally intended for the kudzu eventually makes it's way down the food chain.

Uses of kudzu:

• Kudzu leaves and vine tips can be eaten raw or cooked. For me, it has a taste similar to snow peas.

• The very strong vine can be used to make baskets, used for rope, or used to make a natural fence in the garden for growing climbing fruits and vegetables on.

• As an herb Kudzu has many benefits, the roots, leaves, and flowers can all be used. Some of these benefits include helping people resist the urge for alcohol, it has a beneficial action on blood pressure levels and blood sugar levels, Kudzu contains vitamins and minerals essential for the health of your body, It helps to fight toxins and infection in your body, and can help fight cancer.

• Honeybees love Kudzu flowers. When honey is collected from honeybee hives that have been visiting Kudzu flowers, The honey has a slightly sweet perfume smell and tastes great.

• Kudzu can grow 1' a day or more. I have sat down for an hour or so and watched Kudzu move to another branch while it was growing. Because of this extremely fast growth rate, Kudzu makes an excellent vegetable crop.

• Kudzu Root can be made into a starch for cooking. This starch is considered to be much more versatile in the kitchen, also better for you then other kinds of starch. The starch can be added to thicken fruit sauces, or sprinkled onto food and fried to give the food a tasty crunchy coating.

These are only some of the benefits that kudzu has to offer. Knowing that there are plenty of additional benefits makes it an easy choice for me. And whether I'm adding kudzu to the dinner menu or using its cut vines around the plant nursery,  I know that I'll be doing my part to help tame the uncontrolled spread of kudzu here in the Upstate without the use of chemicals.

Learn more about Andrew Padula and Padula's Plants here or find them on Facebook here.

(Photo attribution.)