Edible Plants of the Southeast: Kudzu

Here in this part of the Southeast, kudzu is one of the most familiar plants around. It is an introduced species of vine that grows at an absolutely prolific rate. It's not unusual to see trees, telephone poles, sheds, towers, and even partially covered houses just covered with this stuff. It's actually a good looking and pleasant smelling plant, but it's rate of growth makes it a major problem in the region. CSX railroad has a lot of track in the area where I wander around and the task of even keeping the rails clear of this vine is a major undertaking. Growing at a rate of up to a foot per day, any neglect in controlling this plant can quickly grow into a major problem.

But since I don't own any assets that are in danger of being swallowed up or pulled apart by kudzu growth, I get to the enjoy the good aspects of it - it's an attractive plant during the growing seasons, it isn't poisonous, it's a great home for critters, and it is edible! Now again, I'd like to make a distinction between "edible" and "Hey, I want to eat this every night!" Kudzu is edible. The most common way to eat it, and the only way I have tried, is to eat the young shoots. It grows so quickly and abundantly that finding fresh shoots is hardly ever a problem. You can also eat the mature leaves, but they are a bit more fibrous and can be harder to digest than the young shoots. The only part you'll want to not eat is the actual vine. The human stomach just isn't up to the task of digesting the vine itself. Once the vines thickens and matures, it turns to pretty much wood, and you don't want to eat that. Apparently you can also grind up the roots and use them as a a flour/starch. Like dandelion, the flowers can be used for jellies, teas, and by bees in honey.

A couple points of caution. Kudzu climbs like poison ivy and is somewhat similar looking, so be sure of your ID before you touch, forage, or especially eat the stuff. Once you get close to kudzu and can recognize the real thing, differentiating between the two by leaf shape is fairly easy. Also, because it's such a pest crop here in the south, cities, counties, and companies spend a significant amount of time and money trying to kill it off. The most common method is drowning it in herbicide. Out in the woods, you can probably be pretty confident no one sprayed it with harmful chemicals. Along a road or anywhere urban, be careful you aren't harvesting kudzu that might have just been sprayed with chemicals you don't want to ingest.

It might not be a plant you want to start in your garden (Don't. In many places it's illegal to plant kudzu). But for an easy to find, recognize, and prepare wild edible, it is tough to beat here in the southeast!

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