The Vine that Ate the South (and My Heart)

I ventured into the deep south for the first time last August on the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity.  I was just this snot-nosed kid from El Paso who somehow managed to get on this bus comprised mostly of very brave Mexican activists who were following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. and being invited into the warm congregations of  African-American communities along the way. It was surreal, beautiful and humbling and I didn’t feel worthy. Everytime I think of that trip I get goosebumps. What an honor. 

We were supposed to stop in New Orleans before heading into Mississippi, but a hurricane blew in so we went straight through. Everything looked so sad and beautiful. The South is enchanted and spooky with such a painful history that it can’t help but leave an imprint on the land. I don’t think it’s  just the humidity that makes you feel like you’re suffocating.  I sat close to the window to see the trees and plants change as we neared Jackson. At the time I hadn’t even considered studying herbal medicine, but I’ve always loved plants (even though I usually have no idea what I’m looking at). There was one in particular that I was drawn to, so much so that I even shot a photo of it eating an abandoned building in downtown Jackson.

Kudzu eatin' shit

Kudzu Eating a Building

It turned out to be kudzu (Pueraria lobata) a.k.a “the vine that ate the south”, which is native to southeast asia and extremely invasive in the American south. I have a soft spot for invasive plants, they are demonized, but I think it is because they are misunderstood. Kudzu is both medicinal and edible (every part except the vine), but it seems most southerners aren’t using it for either. In Asia it is used to treat alcoholism as it seems to calm cravings. When I heard this I was skeptical, but when it was recommended to me I decided to give it a try. I was told to mix a heaping tablespoon of powdered kudzu in apple sauce (feeds your gut bacteria. Love the two birds with one stone approach!) which was actually pretty tasty and the kudzu the applesauce a nutty flavor.

The verdict? Holy shit this stuff works! I did it for about two weeks and noticed that I had fewer cravings and when I did drink I would get a headache soon after. I would have continued taking it, but I ran out and then I left town. Now that I am back and my diet seems to have reverted to that of a frat brother (coffee, booze , eggs and dried meat) I’m ready to give it another go.  I like it powdered because you can throw it in smoothies and thus also trick yourself into more fruits and veggies, but you can also get it in pills, teas or tinctures. I purchase it from Mountain Rose Herbs because that is where the herbalists I know get their herbs so I trust the quality.

So rather than calling kudzu invasive I say it is a gift that is not being opened. In a place where food insecurity is rampant and addiction is high we could be taking advantage of this plentiful plant, but instead we are letting it eat us alive.

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