Author: Patricia Bratianu RN PhD RH-AHG
Kudzu is a fast growing vine which originated in Japan, Fiji and China. It is now rampant in the southeastern United States. While kudzu has sweet smelling flowers, it is an invasive plant which can grow by one foot per day. Its nickname is “the vine that ate the south".
Despite its lack of popularity in the United States, kudzu has been safely used in traditional medicine for over two thousand years. It has been used to treat alcoholism for six centuries. Kudzu root and flowers have been used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine to alleviate fever, headache and muscle aches. It has been used for many years to relieve hot flashes and stabilize people who suffer from mood swings. Other historic uses include: treatment for polio, measles, psoriasis, rashes, fever and dysentery. Kudzu has been employed to alleviate gastritis, flu, hay fever, glaucoma, and migraine headaches.
Modern scientists have discovered that people who are heavy drinkers of alcohol drink slower and consume less alcoholic beverages after drinking kudzu root tea. The tea has been used to relieve “hangovers”. Further research is needed.
Kudzu contains several plant compounds which have documented healing properties. Kudzu is rich in isoflavones, flavenoids, plant sterols, and glycosides. It has anti-inflammatory and estrogenic actions.
The isoflavones in kudzu can be used in a similar fashion as soy to relieve menopausal complaints. Some studies have found that kudzu effectively relieves hot flashes and night sweats. Improved cognition and increased attention spans have been noted. Vaginal dryness was reduced. Though generally recognized as safe until further studies are performed, some researchers believe that kudzu should not be used by women with a history of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer or women taking the drug tamoxifen. However, for some women, kudzu may be considered as an option to hormone replacement therapy. It may be helpful in the treatment of fibrocystic breast disease.
Clinical trials involving an extract of the root has shown multiple cardiovascular benefits. Kudzu decreases blood pressure and angina pain. It may help to reduce unhealthy fats in the blood. Kudzu appears to benefit the circulation within the heart itself. It has historically been used to treat irregular heartbeat, and can help to slow a fast heart rate.
Animal studies show a reduction in blood sugar levels and increased utilization of insulin. Human research indicates possible benefits for reducing manifestations of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by increased belly fat, increased blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and insulin resistance. People who are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome are at risk for developing diabetes and heart disease. Diabetics who are taking medication to reduce blood sugar levels should consult with their healthcare provider before implementing kudzu.
A small study showed that frequency, duration and intensity of cluster headaches were reduced when kudzu was consumed. Musculoskeletal pain has been treated with kudzu.
In China, a drug is made from kudzu which is used in the treatment of stroke.
Kudzu also demonstrates antiviral activity. Concurrent use with antibiotics is not recommended.
Additionally, kudzu offers nutritional benefits, and may be used as a thickener in cooking.
It seems that “the vine that ate the south” may have redeeming qualities after all. Current research looks quite promising in the prevention and treatment of several medical conditions. To have an herb available which is so vigorous would be a major benefit to the healing and green world.