Kudzu, Pueraria lobata, is a vine belonging to the pea family (Fabacea). It is a native plant of southeast China and southern Japan where it is called kuzu and ge gen respectively. Because kudzu grows fast, it gained a plethora of names such as “foot-a-night vine”, “mile-a-minute vine”, “the vine that ate the south”, and “the vegetable form of cancer.” Kudzu is considered an ornamental and medicinal plant in China and Japan but it is considered a natural enemy in southeastern United States. Why?
Kudzu is not a native plant of America. It was first introduced in the United States by Japanese representatives of the 1876 centennial exposition held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A person from the south took samples of kudzu back home and began planting them in his/her garden. Soon afterwards, many southern gardeners began planting kudzu as decorative foliage in gardens and protective ground cover. After the great depression, the US government paid farmers to plant kudzu in their idle lands to control soil erosion. The government had no prior knowledge that the climate of southeastern United States will promote the transformation of kudzu into a highly invasive plant. By 1953, kudzu was declared official weed by the government. After several decades, kudzu now covers at least 7 million acres of land in the United States. It is not easy to control kudzu because it is resistant to most of herbicides available in the market today. It takes many years and lots of money to effectively remove kudzu in a particular land.
There is no doubt that American people hates kudzu, the plant that has been destroying their properties for several decades. The Chinese and Japanese people have opposite feelings for kudzu. They love kudzu not only as an ornamental plant but also as traditional remedy for various diseases. Scientists are beginning to understand the scientific bases of the traditional uses of kudzu.
Health Benefits of Kudzu
Kudzu belongs to the 50 fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. For centuries, kudzu has been used to treat wei syndrome, neck pain, chest pain, diarrhea, alcoholism, hangover, muscle pain, measles, fever, headache, and gastrointestinal problems. It has also been used to control menopausal symptoms.
The biologically active compounds found in kudzu are isoflavones which include daidzein, daidzin, genistein, and puerarin. Isoflavones have anticancer, antimicrobial, antihelmintic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and estrogenic properties.
Researchers are beginning to understand how kudzu effectively reduces alcoholic consumption in animal models as well as humans.
E. Benlhabib et al. of the University of Minnesota, St. Paul found out that kudzu root extract is able to suppress voluntary alcohol consumption and alcohol withdrawal symptoms in rats.
Harvard University researchers found out the ability of kudzu extract to reduce alcohol intake in hamsters and rats by more than half. Other researchers from different institutions observed similar results.
Scott Lukas’ team of researchers at MacLean Hospital (psychiatric hospital affiliated with Harvard University) conducted an experiment that tested the ability of kudzu extract to reduce alcohol intake in human subjects. They recruited 14 men and women (ave. age: 24) for the study that was conducted in a “laboratory” apartment. Half of the subjects were given kudzu pills while the other half were given placebo or inactive pills. They were allowed to drink as many as six bottles of beer. The researchers observed that those who took kudzu pill drank slowly and consumed less beer than those on placebo. Alcohol consumption was almost cut by half. In addition, the researcher found out that kudzu causes few side effects. It is not yet clear how kudzu is able to cut alcohol intake in animal models and human. But the researchers theorize that kudzu speeds alcohol’s effect on the head.
Several researches are being conducted to study the effectiveness of kudzu in treating other human diseases and disorders. Preliminary studies suggest that kudzu is able to improve blood flow in the heart and brain, lower blood pressure, and reduce insulin resistance in diabetic subjects.[ad#afterpost]
References and Further Reading
- Benlhabib, E. et al., Kudzu Root Extract Suppresses Voluntary Alcohol Intake and Alcohol Withrawal Symptoms in P Rats Receiving Free Access to Water Alcohol. Journal of Medicinal Food 7(2):168
- Lukas, S. E. et al. An Extract of the Chinese Herbal Root Kudzu Reduces Alcohol Drinking by Heavy Drinkers in a Naturalistic Setting
- Kudzu cuts alcohol consumption – Harvard Gazette