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Kudzu

Kudzu

Description

Kudzu, whose botanical name is Pueraria lobata, is a member of the Fabaceae legume family. It is also known as Ge-gen, kudzu vine, mile-a-minute vine, foot-a-night vine, and the vine-that-ate-the-South. The latter names refer to this vine's property of rapid growth. This perennial trails, climbs, and winds its rough vines around tree poles and anything else it touches. It grows in shady areas, mountain areas, fields, roadsides and forests in China, Japan, and the southern United States, more so in the latter because when imported, its native insects did not tag along. Kudzu was first seen in the United States as an ornamental plant at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. During the Depression , the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) imported kudzu for erosion control. In 1972, the USDA classified kudzu as a weed because the plant can reach 60 ft (18.29 m) in a single growing season. In June and July, the vines sport purple flowers and in autumn, the leaves shed.

The kudzu root, which can grow to the size of a human being, has a history of use in Chinese medicine. Kudzu contains daidzein, an isoflavone, and diadzin and puerarin, isoflavone glycosides. The isoflavone amount can range from 1.7712.08%, based on kudzu's growing conditions. The highest isoflavone is puerarin with diadzin and daidzein, next in isoflavone amounts. A study at the University of Michigan compared legumes for their sources of the isoflavones of genistein and daidzein, The results showed the kudzu root as a good nutritional source of those two components.

The root also supports bacteria that grab nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it in the soil. This factor may explain kudzu's rapid growth and its success in feeding Angora goats raised by Tuskegee University researcher Dr. Errol G. Rhoden.

General use

Traditional uses

Traditional Chinese medicine has used kudzu, whose Chinese name is ge gan, for centuries. Kudzu's

medicinal uses were first recorded in Shen Nong's herbal text, published around a.d. 100. Chinese medicine recommends kudzu for what it calls wei, or superficial syndrome, referring to a mild disease that appears just below the body's surface and is accompanied by a fever . Chinese medicine also indicates using kudzu for thirst, headaches (migraine and other types of headaches), neck pain from hypertension, angina, allergies, diarrhea , and speeding the progression of measles in children. In general, kudzu is used as a demulcent, or medication given to soothe irritated mucous membranes.

Cardiovascular disease

One alternative practitioner has stated that because kudzu improves the body's flow of blood and levels of oxygen and opens heart vessels, it might help the cardiovascular system. Another researcher, James Duke, refers to a Chinese clinical study that showed that kudzu can benefit angina sufferers. For a period of 16 months, 71 participants took 1015 gm of kudzu root extract. The

results indicated that 29 people had significant improvement, 20 had an intermediary amount of improvement, and the remaining 22 showed no improvement or only a slight improvement.

Duke cites another Chinese study showing that kudzu can lower blood pressure. For a period of 28 weeks, 52 people drank about 8 tsp of kudzu root in a tea. Seventeen people had their blood pressure decrease substantially, while the other 30 had some relief from hypertension.

Alcoholism

It is the Chinese medicinal use of kudzu in treating alcoholism , however, that is the focus of many studies on kudzu. In 1989, two associate research professors in the psychiatry department at the University of North Carolina tested rats for their alcohol cravings. In 1991 an organic chemist tested a tea containing seven herbs including kudzu on drunken rats. The rats had been injected with alcohol; when they ingested the herbal tea, their motor movements became more coordinated.

In further studies conducted in 1992, the rats were allowed to drink alcohol for an hour each day. The rats gulped down an enormous amount of alcohol; however, after a week, when the herbal mixture containing kudzu was given to them 15 minutes before their happy hour, they drank much less alcohol. In another study, the rats were allowed to drink alcohol for the first 24 hours, then deprived for the next 24 hours. On day three, the rats' alcohol intake increased from 20% to 30%. Once injected with the herbal mixture, however, the rats either drank a normal or less than normal amount.

A 1995 study was also conducted at Harvard University using hamsters, because hamsters naturally choose alcohol over water . Thirty hamsters were given either daidzein, an active ingredient in kudzu; or disulfiram (Antabuse), a compound that stops ethanol craving in humans. Nine more hamsters were allowed to drink as much alcohol as they wanted without anything added. Hamsters receiving daidzein, dropped their alcohol intake by 70% and those receiving disulfiram had 80% less alcohol intake. The researchers concluded that daidzein, takes a less toxic metabolic route than disulfiram.

A double-blind random clinical study using human subjects was conducted at the Veterans'Affairs Medical Center in Prescott, Arizona. Thirty-eight middle-aged men suffering from chronic alcoholism were given either 1.2 g of kudzu root extract (21 men) or 1.2 g of a placebo (17 men) twice daily for a month. The results of this test showed no significant difference in sobriety or alcohol cravings in either group.

Preparations

The problems of manufacturing kudzu root as a drug to treat alcoholism and other disorders were outlined in an article on traditional Chinese medicine by Dr. James Zhou. Zhou says that herbs lose their natural balance when manufacturers purify, refine, and treat them with chemicals. The daidzein, in kudzu could treat alcoholism, but the purification process destroys the isoflavone balance. Because it is the isoflavone puerarin in kudzu that stops cardiovascular damage impairment and may prevent an alcoholic side effect, liver damage, Zhou believes that the herb should be given in its natural state.

For angina pectoris, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine recommend 30120 mg of standardized tablets of kudzu root two to three times daily. Ten mg of a standardized tablet equals 1.5 g of the pure root. Tinctures of 12 ml three to five times daily are recommended in place of tablets. To help lower cravings for alcohol, the recommended dosage is 35 g of kudzu root three times daily or 34 ml of tincture three times daily. The All-In-One-Guide to Natural Remedies and Supplements recommends drinking kudzu tea to combat alcoholism. An alternative form of treatment involves taking 1500-mg supplements or cubes before or after the alcohol. The 1500 mg can be divided equally into three daily doses.

Kudzu also comes in supplements combined with St. John's wort to treat the symptoms of alcoholism. One capsule is taken with each meal on a daily basis.

Kudzu leaves can also be used in cooking, for example in quiches and as a deep-fried dish.

Precautions

Kudzu should not be taken by pregnant and lactating women. In traditional Chinese practice, people who sweat too much or have cold in their stomach should avoid kudzu because it is given for "wind-heat" illnesses.

Side effects

As of 2000, no toxic side effects or damage to the liver have been reported from kudzu.

Interactions

Kudzu should not be taken in conjunction with prescription drugs. As with all medicinal supplements, it is best to check with a health care provider before taking kudzu.

Resources

BOOKS

Ali, Elvis, Dr., et al. The All-In-One Guide to Natural Remedies and Supplements. Niagara Falls, NY: AGES Publications, 2000.

Balch, James F., MD and Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 2nd ed. New York: Avery Publishing Group, 1997.

Duke, James A., Ph.D. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1997.

Sharon Crawford

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Kudzu

Kudzu

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata, Fabaceae) is a woody vine whose extremely rapid and aggressive growth has made it a highly successful and widely disliked invasive species throughout much of the southern United States.

A native of Asia, kudzu was imported in the late 1800s as a shade-giving ornamental, and was widely planted in the 1930s to control erosion from cotton fields. In the mild and moist climate it prefers, and without its natural predators, kudzu spreads rapidly. In the United States, it covers more than three million acres across twenty-one southern states, blanketing an area nearly the size of Connecticut.

A kudzu vine can grow as much sixty feet in a growing season. It sets new roots at each node , thus forming a potential new plant every two or three feet. A five-acre field abandoned to kudzu may contain one hundred thousand plants, and the foliage may be two or more feet thick. The tap roots are massive, measuring up to seven inches across and six feet deep, and weighing up to two hundred pounds or more. Kudzu vines grow up and over almost anything, including trees, barns, and telephone wires. They can starve even full-grown trees of light, water, and nutrients.

While kudzu has some nutritional value as livestock forage, it is too difficult to control to make it a valuable crop. Current eradication efforts use either repeated applications of herbicide or continuous, intensive grazing.

see also Fabaceae; Invasive Species.

Richard Robinson

Bibliography

Hoots, Diane, and Juanitta Baldwin. Kudzu: The Vine to Love or Hate. Kodak, TN: Suntop, 1996.

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kudzu

kudzu (kŏŏd´zōō), plant of the family Leguminosae (pulse family), native to Japan. Kudzu (Pueraria thunbergiana) has a woody stem, broad leaves, and clusters of large purple flowers. It is used as a cover crop, for pasturage and hay, and for controlling soil erosion; in Asia, it is cultivated for its edible tubers and hemplike fiber. It was introduced in the United States c.1876 as a decorative vine and is now escaped from cultivation in the South, where it has become a noxious weed. Kudzu is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.

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kudzu

kudzu See kuzu.

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kudzu

kudzu •kudzu

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Kudzu

Kudzu


Pueraria lobata or kudzu, also jokingly referred to as "foota-night" and "the vine that ate the South," is a highly aggressive and persistent semi-woody vine introduced to the United States in the late nineteenth century. It has since become a symbol of the problems possible for native ecosystems caused by the introduction of exotic species . Kudzu's best known characteristic is its extraordinary capacity for rapid growth, managing as much as 12 in (30.5 cm) a day and 60100 ft (1830 m) a season under ideal conditions. When young, kudzu has thin, flexible, downy stems that grow outward as well as upward, eventually covering virtually everything in its path with a thick mat of leaves and tendrils. This lateral growth creates the dramatic effect, common in southeastern states such as Georgia, of telephone poles, buildings, neglected vehicles, and whole areas of woodland being enshrouded in blankets of kudzu. Kudzu's tendency towards aggressive and overwhelming colonization has many detrimental effects, killing stands of trees by robbing them of sunlight and pulling down or shorting out utility cables. Where stem nodes touch the ground, new roots develop which can extend 10 ft (3 m) or more underground and eventually weigh several hundred pounds. In the nearly ideal climate of the Southeast, the prolific vine easily overwhelms virtually all native competitors and also infests cropland and yards.

A member of the pea family, kudzu is itself native to China and Japan. Introduced to the United States at the Japanese garden pavilion during the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, kudzu's broad leaves and richly fragrant reddish-purple blooms made it seem highly desirable as an ornamental plant in American gardens. It now ranges along the eastern seaboard from Florida to Pennsylvania, and westward to Texas. Although hardy, kudzu does not tolerate cold weather and prefers acidic, well-drained soils and bright sunlight. It rarely flowers or sets seed in the northern part of its range and loses its leaves at first frost.

For centuries, the Japanese have cultivated kudzu for its edible roots, medicinal qualities, and fibrous leaves and stems, which are suitable for paper production. After its initial introduction as an ornamental, kudzu also was touted as a forage crop and as a cure for erosion in the United States. Kudzu is nutritionally comparable to alfalfa, and its tremendous durability and speed of growth were thought to outweigh the disadvantages caused for cutting and baling by its rope-like vines. But its effectiveness as a ground cover, particularly on steeply-sloped terrain, is responsible for kudzu's spectacular spread. By the 1930s, the United States Soil Conservation Service was enthusiastically advocating kudzu as a remedy for erosion, subsidizing farmers as well as highway departments and railroads, with as much as $8 an acre to use kudzu for soil retention. The Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps also facilitated the spread of kudzu, planting millions of seedlings as part of an extensive erosion control project.

Kudzu also has had its unofficial champions, the best known of whom is Channing Cope of Covington, Georgia. As a journalist for Atlanta newspapers and popular radio broadcaster, Cope frequently extolled the virtues of kudzu, dubbing it the "miracle vine" and declaring that it had replaced cotton as "King" of the South. The spread of the vine was precipitous. In the early 1950s, the federal government began to question the wisdom of its support for kudzu. By 1953, the Department of Agriculture stopped recommending the use of kudzu for either fodder or ground cover. In 1982, kudzu was officially declared a weed.

Funding is now directed more at finding ways to eradicate kudzu or at least to contain its spread. Continuous over-grazing by livestock will eventually eradicate a field of kudzu, as will repeated applications of defoliant herbicides. Even so, stubborn patches may take five or more years to be completely removed. Controlled burning is usually ineffective and attempting to dig up the massive root system is generally an exercise in futility, but kudzu can be kept off lawns and fences (as an ongoing project) by repeated mowing and enthusiastic pruning.

A variety of new uses are being found for kudzu, and some very old uses are being rediscovered. Kudzu root can be processed into flour and baked into breads and cakes; as a starchy sweetener, it also may be used to flavor soft drinks. Medical researchers investigating the scientific bases of traditional herbal remedies have suggested that isoflavones found in kudzu root may significantly reduce craving for alcohol in alcoholics. Eventually, derivatives of kudzu may also prove to be useful for treatment of high blood pressure. Methane and gasohol have been successfully produced from kudzu, and kudzu's stems may prove to be an economically viable source of fiber for paper production and other purposes. The prolific vine has also become something of a humorous cultural icon, with regional picture postcards throughout the south portraying spectacular and only somewhat exaggerated images of kudzu's explosive growth. Fairs, festivals, restaurants, bars, rock groups, and road races have all borrowed their name and drawn some measure of inspiration from kudzu, poems have been written about it, and kudzu cookbooks and guides to kudzu crafts are readily available in bookstores.

[Lawrence J. Biskowski ]


RESOURCES

PERIODICALS


Dolby, V. "Kudzu Grows Beyond Erosion Control to Help Control Alcoholism." Better Nutrition 58, no. 11 (November 1996): 32.

Hipps, C. "Kudzu." Horticulture 72, no. 6 (June 1994): 369.

Tenenbaum, D. "Weeds from Hell," Technology Review 99, no. 6 (August 1996): 3240.

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Kudzu

Kudzu

Created in 1981 by political cartoonist Doug Marlette (1949—), who was inspired by the fast-growing plant with the same name, the comic strip Kudzu reveals the universal aspects of life as depicted in a small town. Marlette used his experiences growing up in the South to develop his characters and situations. "I located it in North Carolina because I was born there," Marlette said, "but it could be anywhere." His main character, Kudzu Dubose, is an awkward teenager in limbo between childhood and adulthood. Kudzu chronically suffers and good naturedly copes with heartbreak, agony, and failure. He is surrounded by characters who depict common human traits such as narcissism, self-indulgence, and greed.

Marlette selected the name Kudzu for his comic strip and protagonist because his character resembled the kudzu vine. Imported to the United States from Japan in 1876, kudzu flourished in the Deep South's warm climate. "Kudzu is a fast-growing oriental creeper. It was introduced years ago in the South to control soil erosion and is now a menace that covers millions of acres," Marlette explained. "My Kudzu is something of a menace, too, or at least his blunderings are." Marlette noted that both the kudzu vine and his character were pests and defined by their ability to grow despite deterrents. "Like Scarlett O'Hara or Dilsey in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury," Marlette stated, "the kudzu plant—and, I hope, the comic strip—endures and prevails."

The cartoon town of Bypass, North Carolina, population 3,401, is a stereotypical small, southern town full of eccentrics. The protagonist, Kudzu Dubose, is a naive adolescent whose innocence causes him problems. Poetic and vulnerable, Kudzu is artistic. The theme of dreams versus reality prevails in his life. Kudzu lives with his overbearing mother, whom he obeys, but he longs to leave home, escaping the boredom of Bypass to discover the world and acquire personal power in his life. Kudzu wants to be a "great writer" and thinks he needs to move to New York City to achieve his dreams. He keeps a journal and has a short story rejected by The New Yorker magazine. Kudzu is constantly discouraged, misunderstood, and feels despair, but he determinedly seeks happiness. He also desires romantic love and wears a chest wig in an effort to be more masculine.

Kudzu is oppressed by his mother, who is unwilling to allow her son freedom. Mrs. Dubose is a manipulative woman whose bossy behavior resulted in her husband abandoning her and Kudzu. She is an emotional burden to Kudzu, faking illnesses to control her son by making him feel guilty for not taking adequate care of her. She insists that he wear a beeper so that she can always contact him. She does not appreciate her son's talents, dismissing him when he wins writing contests. Kudzu's closest companion at home is his bird Doris, who does impressions when she is alone, and craves chocolate. Kudzu's Uncle Dub owns a filling station and cafe where he works part time. Dub is crude, anti-intellectual, and insensitive, exactly Kudzu's opposite. A "good ol' boy" who prefers his hunting dogs to humans, Dub is simple while Kudzu is complex.

Kudzu's best friend, Maurice Stonewall Jackson, is an African American who is Kudzu's touchstone with reality. Maurice is cool and self-assured, and his goal is to leave the suburban middle-class lifestyle for an urban ghetto. His mother works as a maid for the Tadsworths, the richest family in town. She dreams of Maurice attending Harvard and knows exactly how many biscuits she has cooked to earn his tuition. Maurice and Kudzu explore black and white identities and relationships in the New South. Kudzu's love interest, Veranda Tadsworth, is the daughter of Bubba Tadsworth, who owns the local mill, has a huge estate, and is the most powerful man in the county. Marlette describes Veranda as being the "Southern Belle from Hell." Materialistic, confident, and self-absorbed, Veranda callously rejects Kudzu's romantic overtures. His unrequited love for her inspires his creativity. Veranda, who takes shop class thinking it means shopping, ridicules Kudzu's moonlight serenades and love poems.

Preacher Will B. Dunn is a major character in Bypass. Claiming "Human relations is my life," Dunn provides humorous insights about his congregation at Bypass Baptist Church and admits "Let's face it—the sheep are startin' to get on the shepherd's nerves!" His sermons deal with such topics as the Solid Gold Dancers. Dunn sometimes burps while presiding at wedding ceremonies and falls asleep during his own sermons. He sells videos of his sermons and delivers interesting wedding and funeral services with personal comments. Dunn is always looking for heavenly signs that he should continue his ministry. He counsels Kudzu about the meaning of life and writes an advice column, "Tell It to the Preacher," for the Bypass Bugle, penning pithy and unhelpful replies. He also hosts the televised The Reverend Will B. Dunn Show, providing a toll free number for love offerings. He gossips about his congregants and attends aerobic dance classes. Dunn's goal is to specialize in ministering to the wealthy, and Bubba Tadsworth secures his services. Dunn has a kinder, more reverential side, bringing Christmas gifts to five-yearold Tad Tadsworth when his father makes him work the night shift as a security guard at the mill. American clergy embraced the character of Will B. Dunn as being cathartic for them because he shows that ministers are not perfect. Marlette received the Wilbur Award from the Religious Public Relations Council, and his character's adventures are printed in church bulletins and religious periodicals.

During the 1990s, new characters were introduced such as Nasal T. Lardbottom, Kudzu's classmate and the "whitest white boy"; Mr. Goodvibes, a secular humanist and the school's guidance counselor; and Ida Mae Wombat, an aspiring dental hygienist who desires Kudzu. During the 1990 campaign, Marlette drew Senator Jesse Helms as a character in Kudzu. Cartoon Helms waged the Cold War Separation Anxiety campaign against an international artistic conspiracy in response to Helms' real crusade against the National Endowment for the Arts. The strip featured Helms on the reelection campaign trail, nostalgically recalling that when he was younger "art was sad-faced clowns, big-eyed children and black velvet Elvises" and culture was "what the veterinarian scraped off the cow's tongue to check for hoof-and-mouth disease." These Kudzu strips were controversial. Many North Carolina newspapers moved Kudzu to the opinion pages, and the Raleigh News and Observer canceled it. Readers demanded that the strip be resumed, and after election day, the newspaper printed all of the strips. Kudzu comic strips have also been published in numerous book collections.

—Elizabeth D. Schafer

Further Reading:

Marlette, Doug. Chocolate Is My Life: Featuring Doris the Parakeet. Atlanta, Peachtree Publishers, 1987.

——. A Doublewide with a View: The Kudzu Chronicles. Atlanta, Longstreet Press, 1989.

——. Even White Boys Get the Blues: Kudzu's First Ten Years. Introduction by Pat Conroy. New York, Times Books, 1992.

——. I Am Not a Televangelist!: The Continuing Saga of Reverend Will B. Dunn. Atlanta, Longstreet Press, 1988.

——. In Your Face: A Cartoonist at Work. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

——. Just a Simple Country Preacher: More Wit and Wisdom of Reverend Will B. Dunn. Nashville, T. Nelson, 1985.

Shurtleff, William, and Akiko Aoyagi. The Book of Kudzu: A Culinary & Healing Guide. Brookline, Maryland, Autumn Press, 1977.

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