Monday, September 14, 2009

Kudzu - Menace or "Hidden Manna"?

Kudzu, also known as "the vine that ate the South" and a few other descriptive names, is one of my fascinations. As we've driven through Tennessee and other parts of the South, "kudzu sculpture" is a common sight along the highways. This picture barely captures the wonder of this massive hillside with full-growth trees buried in a mantle of kudzu vines.

There are many websites devoted to the history of how this Japanese native became a part of the landscape. Some websites feature incredible pictures and others have recipes for this voracious vine. Kudzu has made it's own place in history by being far more tenacious than any of the local plants. The cost of this plant's destructive tendencies is amazing. The battle to keep electric, phone, and cable lines free of this weighty invader is a full-time job for utility companies and the locals.

On the other hand, this vine is edible and useful for food both for people and animals. The young leaves can be used like grape leaves or cooked like spinach or collard greens. The nutritional value is considered to be higher than spinach. The roots are tubers and can be eaten like potatoes or dried and pounded into a flour that works as a thickener like cornstarch. It makes a very good fodder for grazing animals like sheep, goats, and cattle. I'm hoping that I will have a chance while we're here in the South to gather some and try a couple of dishes just for fun. Who knows! This plant may be more than a menace. It may actually be "hidden manna"!

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