Kudzu is an intriguing plant which originates from the Far East. It has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to treat addiction, migraine, diarrhoea, vomiting, hypertension and tinnitus amongst others. Today, kudzu is mainly used to help wean people off ‘everyday’ drugs: alcohol, tobacco, sugar etc.
Kudzu is a member of the Fabaceae family which also includes beans, peas, lentils, groundnuts, soya, liquorice and wisteria . Like wisteria, kudzu has abundant clusters of purple flowers.
Kudzilla : “the vine that ate the south”
Kudzu is originally an indigenous plant of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and New Caldeonia .
However, in the 19th century, it was introduced into the United States - a big mistake!
In 1876, at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia marking the US’s one hundredth anniversary of independence, the Japanese Pavilion consisted of a magnificent exotic garden. Americans were captivated by kudzu’s sweet scent and large leaves .
American gardeners immediately began to use it as an ornamental plant.
In the 1920s, two Florida nursery professionals began to sell kudzu as a fodder plant - goats love it.
Later, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted the mass planting of kudzu for preventing soil erosion. As part of an economic recovery programme, young workers were offered attractive wages for planting kudzu right across the southern United States, particularly in Georgia.
Within 10 years, the fate of the ‘South’ was sealed.
Kudzu is a terrifyingly rampant vine. It can grow 300m a year - expanding like a soufflé in the oven. It has proved to be the worst possible weed - there is no way of stopping its spread. The climate in the southern US is ideal for kudzu, so much so that it can grow at a rate of 1.5m a day!
The second fatal error was failing to import kudzu’s insect predators from Asia along with the plant. No species in the US has been able to stop its proliferation. As a result, fields have disappeared, forests have been suffocated, power lines destroyed, roads smothered and houses engulfed. It is a veritable scourge.
Once kudzu is established in an area, it smothers all other plants and trees, depriving them of sunlight. Even the most powerful herbicides cannot stop it. In the southern United States, kudzu has created an apocalyptic landscape worthy of a Steven Spielberg film in which a jungle takes over the town. That is why it has been described as the “Godzilla vine”. However, despite all this, kudzu is actually a blessing.
A powerful “drunkenness dispeller”
Kudzu’s Chinese name can be loosely translated as “drunkenness dispeller”. Dr David Lee noted that the Chinese drank kudzu tea to sober up and ease their hangovers.
In 1991, he conducted a study in China at the University of Shin-Yanget to test the effects of kudzu tea on laboratory rats that had been given alcohol. The rats’ motor coordination was found to improve and they appeared less intoxicated .
Other experiments suggest the animals did not seem to develop any dependency on the kudzu .
The following year, Dr Lee suggested to researchers at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies in North Carolina that they test kudzu to see if it could help reduce alcohol consumption in rats bred to crave alcohol. The researchers found that giving kudzu to ‘alcoholic’ rats did indeed lower their tendency to consume alcohol .
Following these encouraging findings, scientists at Harvard University in 2011 tested the efficacy of kudzu against placebo in adults who were regularly drinking 3 or 4 pints of beer a day . They made two important discoveries:
1. Desire for alcohol among volunteers in the kudzu group was clearly less than among those in the placebo group;
2. The kudzu participants felt the effects of alcohol more rapidly and as a result, needed to drink less to feel the same level of ‘happiness’.
Unfortunately, few other studies exist on kudzu’s efficacy in reducing alcohol consumption.
The fact remains, however, that many people who take kudzu have obtained such convincing results that kudzu is now considered for the treatment of many kinds of addiction: alcohol, tobacco, drugs, medicines, coffee, chocolate, work and sport . Kudzu can help in cases of stress associated with addiction and with reducing dependency.
Many such testimonies can be found on the Internet, like that of former smoker Laurence :
”For me, kudzu works better than a patch. I have only smoked two cigarettes since taking it and I have no desire to start smoking again. The taste has changed.”
Despite the absence of large-scale clinical trials, researchers have come to understand why kudzu is effective.
Active substances in kudzu
Kudzu roots are rich in isoflavonoids from the flavonoid family. These include daidzein, recognised as an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agent, and which also has anti-cancer effects, and genistein which has an anti-leukaemia action. Most significantly, however, kudzu is the only source of puerarin; indeed the latin name for kudzu is pueraria
These isoflavones are also antioxidants which help reduced alcohol-induced damage. Studies have shown that these isoflavones stimulate the brain’s natural ‘opioids’ . They act on neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GAGA and glutamate .
Common addictive substances such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sugar produce feelings of pleasure and well-being which result from increased dopamine production in the brain. The isoflavones in kudzu reduce addiction by influencing the brain’s recompense system. They stimulate the production of dopamine in place of your ‘drug of choice’. You therefore feel more relaxed and are able to stop focusing on the object of your addiction. You no longer feel the need to have one more glass, cigarette or piece of chocolate.
Kudzu thus compensates for the pleasure normally provided by your ‘drug’ and enables you to reduce your addiction. What’s more, kudzu itself is non-addictive - several clinical trials have actually confirmed its innocuity . Isoflavones are, however, not recommended for those suffering from breast cancer.
Kudzu allows you to gradually replace your drug of choice and gently accustom your brain to receiving less intense ‘rushes’ of dopamine.
Kudzu also contains saponosides which prevent cell damage and protect the liver.
In addition to its role in reducing addiction, kudzu is considered an effective aid against stress in general, thus promoting good quality sleep.
It is also used for the occasional relief of digestion and transit problems .
Which part of the kudzu plant should you consume
The isoflavones that help reduce addiction are found in the roots of the plant. Once the kudzu root has been crushed, it can be encapsulated to facilitate its absorption.
This letter has been adapted from an article first published on santenatureinnovation.com with their permission.
 Spivey, Angela. Sobering effects from the lowly kudzu. Endeavor Magazine (April, 1996) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
 D. Penetar et al., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074930/, Alcohol Clin Exp Res. Apr 2011; 35(4): 726–734,