The Fine Art of Dining on Kudzu

We all know that Kudzu has become the nightmare of the South. However, you may be very glad to have that horrible pest climbing all over everything when supplies are low and you need to keep from having scurvy, rickets, and many other conditions brought about by malnutrition.

Common names for kudzu include:
mile-a-minute vine,
foot-a-night vine,
and the vine that ate the South.

It's a bean vine. The legume, Pueraria thunbergiana, to be exact. 

Kudzu is a coarse, high-climbing, twining, trailing, perennial vine. The huge root, which can grow to the size of a human body, is the source of medicinal preparations used in traditional Chinese medicine and modern herbal products. Kudzu grows in most shaded areas in mountains, fields, along roadsides, thickets, and thin forests, throughout most of China. The root of another Asian species of kudzu, Pueraria thomsonii, is also used for herbal products.

Medicinal Value

Active constituents: Kudzu root is high in isoflavones, such as daidzein, as well as isoflavone glycosides, such as daidzin and puerarin. Depending on its growing conditions, the total isoflavone content varies from 1.77-12.0%, with puerarin in the highest concentration, followed by daidzin and daidzein.

As is the case with other flavonoid-like substances, the constituents in kudzu root are associated with improved microcirculation and blood flow through the coronary arteries. A widely publicized 1993 animal study showed that both daidzin and daidzein inhibit the desire for alcohol.3 The authors concluded that the root extract may in fact be useful for reducing the urge for alcohol and as treatment for alcoholism. This has not yet been proven in controlled clinical studies with humans.

How much should I take?
The 1985 Chinese Pharmacopoeia suggests 9-15 grams per day of kudzu root.4 In China, tablets of the standardized root (10 mg of weight per tablet equivalent to 1.5 grams of the crude root) are used for angina pectoris. This would equate to 30-120 mg two to three times per day. Kudzu tincture can be used in the amount of 1-2 ml taken three to five times per day.

Are there any side effects or interactions?
At the dosages recommended above, there have been no reports of kudzu toxicity in humans.

In its native lands, the roots are used to make a medicinal tea for treating dysentery and fever. In Japan, a kind of kudzu tofu is highly prized. The stems yield a fiber called ko-kemp that is useful in making cloth and paper. And, last but not least, the plant contains a chemical compound, daidzin, that has proven to be effective in suppressing the craving for alcohol. Indeed, as you read these very words, researchers at Harvard Medical School are hard at work feeding kudzu to alcoholic hampsters in an effort to prove that a kudzu extract used in China and Japan for centuries to treat alcoholism won't kill you!

It's everywhere! So we might as well do something with it. Every part of the Kudzu plant is usable. Try young Kudzu leaves in place of spinach. Deep fried Kudzu leaves are like potato chips. Do a pot of rolled stuffed Kudzu leaves instead of using cabbage... Use the root powder in place of cornstarch and for frying squash or other vegetables....... Make Kudzu wine!

Some Uses, Tips and Recipes

Avoid roadside areas where the kudzu has curled, dead leaves. This indicates it may have been sprayed with pesticides. 
You can use kudzu almost as you can any other green, leafy vegetable. Kudzu is good in casseroles, and a few chopped leaves tossed into a basic corn bread recipe add color, texture and a new taste. 
Suggestion: Parboil leaves for extra tenderness before adding to other ingredients.

 Leaves for Use... 
 Best Time to Harvest: Pick tender kudzu leaves in spring and early summer. Young leaves at the end of the vines may be collected at any time. Make sure you are not using leaves that have been sprayed with herbicide! 

Important Note: Make darn sure you've picked kudzu. It has a three leaf arrangement, but so does poison ivy and poison oak! If you are from the South and don't know what kudzu is, you are probably already dead, but don't make it any worse! 
The root of the kudzu vine (which can weigh up to several hundred pounds) can be harvested and used to make kudzu powder.

Note: The recipes below DO call for specific ingredients, but when have we ever used exactly what a recipe calls for? Use your imagination...Be creative.

 Formulas... 

  • Original Kudzu Tea -- Add salt. Tastes like potliquor (the liquid vegetables have been cooked in). 
  • Honzu Tea -- Add honey to taste. (You may also sweeten with sugar.)    This is great with a little mint! 
  • Blackzu Tea -- Add Blackstrap Molasses. (Healthy, but horrible!) 
 House dry leaves for two to three weeks. Don't bake them in the oven to dry! 
 Bring leaves to a light boil for 30 - 45 minutes. You can crumble the leaves and put them in a clean white sock for steeping, or just strain them from the tea 
after simmering. 
 That's it... Enjoy! 

How to Fix Boiled Kudzu Stems

Boiled Kudzu Stems are a classic southern treat! They're easy to make and a great summer snack! 
Difficulty Level: Easy Time Required: 2 - 3 hours 

Here's How: 
Select fresh kudzu stems either at your local overgrown lot, kudzu festival market or if you're outside the south, from a kudzu Internet grocer. They should be very firm and "hairy." 

  • Obtain a large pot which will easily hold your kudzu stems and allow them to be covered with water. 
  • Wash kudzu stems thoroughly to remove any dirt. 
  • Remove any leaves which might be present and discard. 
  • Place kudzu stems in large pot. Add salt based on personal preference. The more salt the saltier the kudzu stems (duh). Ideally, Boiled Kudzu stems should be highly salty to taste when done. For about 1 to 2 pounds, add 6 or 7 cups of salt (this just a guideline though).                                                Add one can of beer if desired. (Beer enhances the saltiness and gives a little extra tartness to the finished stems.) 
  • Set on stove or on outdoor propane burner and set temperature to "High" until water is to a rolling boil. Adjust heat as necessary to keep water at a good boil. Add water during boiling if necessary to maintain water level on kudzu stems. (Add salt with water if desired. There's no such thing as too much salt.) 
  • Boil kudzu stems for 2 to 3 hours. Check kudzu stems at 2 hours for readiness. Kudzu stems are ready when they're slightly soft but not mushy. 
  • When kudzu stems are done, turn off heat and allow to sit for up to one hour to absorb salt. The longer they sit, the saltier they get! 
  • When kudzu stems are at the desired saltiness for your taste, strain them and place in a bowl. 
  • Grab a Coke, beer or iced tea and start eating! 
Tips: 
If you plan to keep your kudzu stems for several days, cover them and place in refrigerator. Kudzu stems may get sticky if left in a warm room for over 5 days and develop molds. 
If you made your kudzu stems too salty (a real impossibility), place them in plain water for an hour or two. (Remember osmosis from chemistry class?) 
To rewarm kudzu stems, place them in a pot with hot water. Microwave rewarming sometimes makes the kudzu stems feel sticky. 
The large Carolina kudzu stems are absolutely wonderful to boil. Try them if you can get them!

Kudzu quiche
Makes 4 to 6 servings 

1 cup heavy cream
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped young, tender kudzu leaves and stems
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 9-inch unbaked pastry pie shell 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix first six ingredients. Place in pie shell. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until set.

Kudzu and Turnips
Makes 4 servings

4   thick slices bacon
1   pound turnips
1   cup chopped kudzu leaves and stems
1   tablespoon butter
1   cup water
1   tablespoon sugar
2   tablespoons reserved bacon drippings
    Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Peel and cut turnips into small cubes. Chop kudzu leaves. Combine with turnips in a medium saucepan. Add butter, water, sugar and bacon drippings. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat about 1 hour, covered, until turnips are tender. Garnish with crumbled bacon on top. Serve with corn bread. (Chopped kudzu can also be added to any corn bread recipe.)

Kudzu and broccoli casserole
Makes 6 servings

1   10 3/4-oz. can cream of broccoli 
    or cream of celery soup
4   oz. grated cheddar cheese
2   cups broccoli flowerets
1   cup chopped kudzu
1   2.8-oz. can onion rings
1   cup diced meat such as ham (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Warm soup and cheese together. Layer half the broccoli, half the kudzu and half the onion rings in a buttered 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Add diced meat if desired. Pour half of cheese soup over this. Add another layer of broccoli and kudzu. Pour remaining cheese sauce over this. Sprinkle remaining onion rings on top. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes.

Kudzu and Seafood casserole
Makes 6 servings

1   cup uncooked rice, cooked 
    according to package directions
    Kudzu (complete leaves), enough 
    to cover an 8x11-inch dish
1   pound fresh large shrimp
1/2 pound crabmeat
3   hard-boiled eggs
2   cups sharp cheddar cheese
2   10 3/4-oz. cans cream of shrimp soup
3   tablespoons sherry (regular, 
    not cooking sherry)
1   cup buttered bread crumbs

Spreak cooked rice in bottom of 8x11-inch casserole dish. After parboiling kudzu leaves, put them over the rice. Peel and devein shrimp and layer over kudzu. Add layer of crabmeat. Slice eggs and layer on top of seafood. On stove, combine cheddar and cream of shrimp soup. Stir until cheese is completely melted. Add sherry and stir well. Pour sauce over entire casserole. Bake in 350-degree oven until bubbly (15-20 minutes). Take out and put break crumbs atop casserole. Brown under broiler for no more than 3 minutes.

Kudzu Blossom Jelly
Spoon over cream cheese, or melt and serve over waffles and ice cream.

4 cups Kudzu blossoms 
4 cups boiling water 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
1 (1 3/4-ounce) package powered pectin 5 cups sugar 

WASH kudzu blossoms with cold water, and place them in a large bowl. Pour 4 cups boiling water over blossoms, and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. POUR blossoms and liquid through a colander into a Dutch oven, discarding blossoms. ADD lemon juice and pectin; bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar; return to a full rolling boil, and boil, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Remove from heat; skim off foam with a spoon. QUICKLY pour jelly into hot, sterilized jars, filling to 1/4 inch from top. Wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands. PROCESS in boiling water bath 5 minutes. Cool on wire racks. YIELD: 6 half pints NOTE : Blossom liquid is gray until lemon juice is added. 

Rolled Kudzu Leaves

Kudzu Leaves 
1 can diced tomatoes 
2 teaspoons salt 
3 cloves garlic, cut in half 
Juice of 3 lemons Soup bones (optional) 
Gather about 30 medium size young kudzu leaves. ( The very big ones have tough center and radiating stem veins ) . 
Make sure area has not been sprayed with chemicals to kill the kudzu. 

  • Wash leaves. Drop into salted boiling water. Boil a 2-3 minutes, separating leaves.. 
  • Remove to a plate to cool. 
  • Remove heavy center stems from the leaves by using a knife and cutting down each side of the stem to about the middle of the leaf. 
  • Push cut together and fill with 1 teaspoon stuffing and roll in the shape of a cigar. 
  • Place something in bottom of a large pan so that rolled leaves will not sit directly on the bottom of the pan. I use a round rack that came with my pressure cooker. Soup bones work great. 
  • Arrange kudzu rolls alternately in opposite directions. 
  • When all are in the pot, pour in a can diced tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 3 cloves of garlic, cut in half. Press down with an inverted dish and add water to reach dish. Cover pot and cook on medium for 30 mins. Add lemon juice and cook 10 mins more. 
Stuffing
1 cup rice, rinsed in water 1 pound ground lamb or lean beef. 1 cup canned diced tomatoes 1/2 teaspoon of allspice Salt and Pepper to taste 
Combine all ingredients and mix well. 
 

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