The flowers are borne in long panicles 10–25 cm (about 4–10 in) long with about 30–80 individual blooms at nodes on the stems (see image). Each flower is about 1–1.5 cm (about 0.4–0.6 in) long, purple, highly fragrant. The flowers are copious nectar producers and are visited by many species of insects, including bees, butterflies and moths. Flowering occurs in late summer and is soon followed by production of brown, hairy, flattened, seed pods, each of which contains three to ten hard seeds.
The non-woody parts of the plant are edible. The young leaves can be used for salad or cooked as a leaf vegetable; the flowers battered and fried (like squash flowers); and the starchy tuberous roots can be prepared as any root vegetable.
Once established, kudzu plants grow rapidly, extending as much as 20 m (60 ft) per season at a rate of about 30 cm (12 in) per day. This vigorous vine may extend 10–30 m (30–100 ft) in length, with basal stems 1–10 cm (1–4 in) diameter. Kudzu roots are fleshy, with massive tap roots 10–20 cm (4–8 in) or more in diameter, 1–2 m (3–6 ft) or more in length, and weighing as much as 180 kg. As many as thirty stems may grow from a single root crown.
Kudzu grows well under a wide range of conditions and in most soil types. Preferred habitats are forest edges, abandoned fields, roadsides, and disturbed areas, where sunlight is abundant. Kudzu grows best where winters do not drop below –15 °C (5 °F), average summer temperatures are regularly above 27 °C (80 °F), and annual rainfall is 1000 mm (40 in) or more. In areas where winters drop below –15 °C, it will be killed to ground level, but the roots may send up new growth in the spring.
Kudzu is sometimes referred to as "the plant that ate the South", a reference to how kudzu's explosive growth has been most prolific in the southeastern United States due to nearly ideal growing conditions. Significant sums of money and effort are
The starchy roots are ground into a fine powder and used for varieties of Wagashi and herbal medicines. When added to water and heated, kudzu powder becomes clear and adds stickiness to the food. The name Kudzu appeared first in Kojiki and Nihonshoki as a type of vine or Kazura (葛 or 蔓) used commonly by the people who lived in Kudzu (国栖), area around present-day Yoshino, Nara prefecture. It is unclear whether the name was taken from the people or the name of the plant was applied to the people. Kudzu has been in use for over 1300 years and it is speculated that it goes back even further. In the Nara and Heian era, records had been found that they were collected and sent as a part of tax. Even today, "Yoshino Kudzu" has the best image of kudzu powder yet. Kagoshima prefecture is the largest producer of kudzu products.
Studies have shown (, ) that kudzu can reduce both hangovers and alcohol cravings. The mechanism for this is not yet established, but it may have to do with both alcohol metabolism and the reward circuits in the brain. Kudzu also contains a number of useful isoflavones, including daidzein (an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent), daidzin (a cancer preventive) and genistein (an antileukemic agent). Kudzu is a unique source of the isoflavone, puerarin. Kudzu root compounds can affect neurotransmitters (including serotonin, GABA, and glutamate) and it has shown value in treating migraine and cluster headache . In traditional Chinese medicine, kudzu was used for tinnitus, vertigo, and Wei syndrome (superficial heat close to the surface).
Other useful herb information: Avena Sativa | Yarrow | Glucomannan | Maca | Valerian | Tansy | Pau darco
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