If You Can't Beat It, Eat It
News bulletin: kudzu is a food.
You can fry the leaves, chop it for casseroles and quiches, candy, jelly and more. Just as the folks at May’s Chapel United Methodist Church near Maiden. They’ve celebrated kudzu dishes for years. I dropped by there last month.
Of course most consider kudzu a scourge of the South, a once-welcomed Asian import to cure soil erosion, a monster whose tendrils choke trees, smother shrubs, and turn entire fields and hillsides into snake havens.
Historians say the stuff arrived in 1876 as an exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition as a landscape feature at the Japanese Pavilion. The large leaves and tantalizing grape-smelling purple flowers lured visitors into planting kudzu. By 1905, the vine was used to prevent soil erosion and as forage for cows, pigs, and goats. But the stuff kept growing and growing and growing.
With encroaching kudzu on their church property, the folks at May’s Chapel took matters into their own hands by wrestling kudzu into the kitchen. What appeared to be a David-and-Goliath proposition sent the optimists on a mission: if you can’t beat it; eat it. The annual kudzu festival was born to lure taste testers and benefit mission projects, not the least being keeping the pesky vines in check.
Deep-fried kudzu leaves taste something like zucchini sticks. The green leaves can be substituted for spinach in recipes. The jelly, surprisingly, is pink since it’s made from the kudzu blooms that smell something like grapes and appear in purple clusters. The taste? Very mild.
Leaves, blossoms and roots are edible. Nutritionally, a cup of fresh leaves offers 258 calories, rich in phosphorus, calcium and fiber. Use kudzu to make tea, wine, salsa, salads, even home remedies.
Kudzu Festivals have cropped up in Waxhaw, NC; Holly Springs, MS and Chattanooga, TN as tongue-in-cheek diversion for the dog days of summer. But it’s not all about edibles. Some turn the vines for wreaths, ornaments or displays of stuffed animals with leaves in a penned “kud-zoo” like the one at May’s Chapel.
If you’re looking for some affordable fun and flavor, kudzu may be your ticket. Just talk loudly before you harvest so snakes and other critters can make their getaway.
Here are some recipes for kudzu dishes: