Kudzu is cooked as food in China, and also is used as an herb in traditional Chinese medicine. However, in the United States, kudzu has become an invasive pest. It was deliberately planted earlier this century for use as animal fodder and to control soil erosion. It turned out to be incredibly prolific and soon spread throughout the South like an alien invader. The problem is that kudzu can grow a foot a day during the summer, and as much as 60 feet a year, giving it the folk name "mile-a-minute vine." It swallows telephone poles, chokes trees, and takes over yards.

Besides cooking with it, feeding it to animals, and weaving baskets out of its rubbery vines, kudzu may also be useful in treating alcoholism. In Chinese folk medicine, a tea brewed from kudzu root is believed to be useful in sobering up people who are intoxicated by alcohol. Taking the hint, a 1993 study evaluated the effects of kudzu in a species of hamsters known to enjoy drinking alcohol to intoxication.1 Ordinarily, if given a choice, the Syrian golden hamster will prefer alcohol to water, but administration of kudzu reversed that preference.

This animal study, along with another one involving rats,3led to widespread speculation that kudzu may be useful in the treatment of human alcoholism. However, the results of the two small reported human trials are conflicting.2, 5

In academic Chinese herbology (as opposed to Chinese folk medicine), kudzu has different applications. One classic herbal formula containing kudzu is used for the treatment of colds accompanied by pain in the neck. However, there is no scientific evidence that it is effective for this condition.

Kudzu contains isoflavones similar to those found in soy. These substances are known to have an estrogen-like effect. On this basis, kudzu has been proposed as a treatment formenopausal symptoms. However, the one published double-blind trial failed to find benefit.4