Amongst all the brilliant greens of spring, you’ve likely noticed another abundant piece of flora: kudzu. Arguably the South’s most well-known invasive species, the familiar green vine with Japanese origins can be found throughout WNC.
The vine is acknowledged as a threat to biodiversity and an ozone layer pollutant today, which is why groups like the WNC-based Kudzu Warriors exist: to combat the invasive plant so native ones can thrive.
At the same time, the vine has also been recognized by locals for its multiple culinary + medicinal uses. Local nonprofits like Kudzu Culture host workshops on how to harvest and use it in art, cooking, textiles, and holistic medicine. According to Mountain Xpress, some locals also use the vine to create unique dishes like maple hickory-nut kudzu pudding + kudzu matcha mochi (a chewy rice cake made with matcha green tea).
As far as local products go, we can personally attest that we’re big fans of Shanti Elixir’s Kudzu Dandelion Jun Tea. There’s also the NC “Kudzu Queen” Edith Edwards, who creates her own kudzu jelly, baskets, and other vine-based products.
But how did it get here? In order to understand this invasive species better, here’s a history on how it arrived.
Kudzu first arrived from Japan in 1876, touted as a source of livestock food and a way to help control erosion. By the early 1900s, it gained popularity as an ornamental shade plant, and by the 1940s and 1950s, farmers were being encouraged by the government to plant it for erosion control. By 1945, the vine covered an estimated 500,000 acres in the Southeast.
Unfortunately, farmers found the plant quickly enveloped trees + farmsteads, causing native plant species to smother and die. By 1953, the USDA removed it from the list of acceptable cover crops and frustrated people launched eradication programs. In 1998, Congress officially listed the vine under the Federal Noxious Weed Act.