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Thursday, April 05, 2007


Kudzu (synonym: Gegen) is another name for Pueraria lobata (Willd.) Ohwi. and P. thompsonii Benth. (Family Leguminosae). The part used is the root tuber. This is traditionally used for colds and flu and associated fever or headache, stiff and sore neck, diarrhea, measles, thirst, and drunkenness. More recently it has been used to treat hypertension, angina, pectoris, migraine, diabetes, nasal sinusitus, urticaria, psoriasis, and itching. It is also used externally for traumatic injuries.

The first written record of kudzu in China dates back to the fifth century B.C. and its first recorded medical applications date back about two thousand years. The kudzu plant is truly versatile and economic. Its root produces a starch similar to arrowroot starch, which is widely used by Asians (especially Chinese and Japanese) as a food and medicine; the root itself is also eaten in soups or is cooked alone or with other herbs for treating various conditions. Being rich in protein and other nutrients, the whole aboveground portion can be used in making animal feed. The fiber from the vine can be used in making textile.

After being introduced into the United States from Asia a little over a hundred years ago, one of the kudzu vines (Pueraria labata) has now run wild, especially in the Southeast. There, it overruns telephone poles, abandoned houses and cars, and is considered a pest. Instead of viewing it as a natural resource for use as human and animal food, as medicine and as industrial fiber, our government has been spending money to support program after program trying to eradicate it. What else is new?

I remember when I was growing up, kudzu often showed up on our dinner table in the form of a soup, for what my grandma used to call too much "hot air" among us. In Cantonese folk medicine, "hot or feverish air" or simply "hot" conditions are characterized by one or more of the following: headache with a feeling of heaviness in the head, dryness of mouth, bitter taste in the mouth, bad breath, canker sores, blisters in the mouth, swollen gums, dry and uncomfortable feeling in the throat, bloodshot eyes, pain during urination, etc. Many of these "hot"conditions can now be correlated to viral or bacterial infections. Other foods good for these indications include mung bean, chrysanthemum, and watercress. Kudzu root and flower are also used to treat hangovers. Maybe my grandma served kudzu root soup serreptitiously for one of my uncles who was known to hit the bottle once in a while.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including kudzu on pages 54-55. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

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