Deciduous climber growing to 100 ft (30 m). Has leaves with 3 broadly oval leaflets, curling tendrils, and spikes of pea-type purple flowers.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to China, Japan, and eastern Asia, kudzu is naturalized in the U.S. It is cultivated in the central and eastern provinces of China. The root is unearthed in spring or autumn.
Kudzu contains triterpenoid saponins, isoflavones, and phytosterols. The isoflavones are estrogenic.
History & Folklore
From the 6th century BCE onward, Chinese herbalists have considered kudzu to be a remedy for muscular pain and a treatment for measles. Zhang Zhongjing (150–c. 219 CE) recommended kudzu if the patient “has a stiff back and muscles, does not breathe easily, and is susceptible to wind.”
Medicinal Actions & Uses
In China, kudzu is frequently used as a remedy for measles, often in combination with sheng ma (Cimicifuga foetida). Kudzu is also given for muscle aches and pains, especially when they are linked with fever or are affecting the neck and upper back. The root may be taken to treat symptoms of headache, dizziness, or numbness caused by high blood pressure.
Kudzu also treats diarrhea and dysentery. Kudzu flowers are traditionally taken to treat alcohol intoxication and hangovers, and are thought to increase the rate of clearance of alcohol from the body, aiding recovery from intoxication. Kudzu root, however, is thought to act in a more or less opposite way—it slows the liver’s ability to break down (and clear) alcohol from the system. Kudzu root may therefore increase the risks associated with alcohol consumption, and should not be taken as a “hangover cure.”
Chinese studies indicate that kudzu increases cerebral blood flow in patients with arteriosclerosis, and eases neck pain and stiffness. U.S. research indicates that kudzu may suppress the desire for alcohol.
The closely related P. mirifica and P. tuberosa have been investigated for their contraceptive effect.