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Out On The Mudline

Quit Complaining, Kudzu Is Good For You

By W. P. Sissell

Odd Uses for Kudzu

Several weeks ago the pilot of a plane doing stunts in the Oakland area walked away from a crash because of the kudzu that blanketed the gullies in which he landed.  Just this week an article in the Panolian quotes Panola County coroner Gulledge saying that the body of Pfc. Shedrick Deon Gordon Jr. was recovered from a 30-foot kudzu covered ravine. Gordon apparently lost control and plunged into the kudzu at the intersection of Lee Jennings and Holston roads in north Panola County. Gordon was in flight from a Mississippi Highway Patrolman at the time of his crash.

The Book

“The Book of Kudzu” treats many uses of kudzu other than as a landing mat. The overall title, quoted last week, includes a guide to its use in the culinary and healing arts. The second listing in the table of contents, entitled Cooking with Kudzu,  contains twenty-three pages of recipes for sauces, soups, jelled salads, deep-fried preparations, grains with kudzu power, primary foods made from kudzu powder, special tofu with kudzu, jelled desserts, Japanese-style jelled confections, thickened beverages, kudzu noodles, kudzu leaves, shoots, flowers and roots. In this section there is a table included which easily gives one the amount of kudzu powder needed to thicken and/or jell foods as desired—even to create medicinal creams.   

It is apparent as one reads through this book that this plant has been used by the Asian peoples for centuries. The earliest date I find in the sections we received is 200 A.D.

The topic Healing with Kudzu is covered in nine pages.  The next ten pages are devoted to Making Kudzu Powder. This is the lengthy procedure used to get the powder used in the culinary arts.  

The next unit, Weaving with Kudzu, covered in seven pages, gives a wealth of information about several other uses of the plant. Kudzu vines yield strands of high quality bast (inside the bark tissue) fibers that have been used for over 750 years by folk artisans and commercial weavers through-out East Asia in the production of the finest textiles. These fibers, extracted by hand are valued above all others for their properties. They are almost radiant and generally valued more than silk. They have an ivory to beige color which seems to be burnished with gold. Their strength, texture and appearance somewhat resembles clear flax used in making fine linen. The filaments used for weaving are made by splitting the fibers. Most modern artisans use the filaments in their natural form (no spinning, twisting, or dyeing) to allow the beauty of the material to shine through. Kudzu cloth is always woven on hand looms.

There are four basic types of kudzu cloth. The most popular one in America is grasscloth, an elegant wallpaper. Few people realize that this, simply sold as “grasscloth,” is made from kudzu.  Two varieties of very thin cloth (one tight weave and one loose weave) are used for garments and for certain decoration. Ideal for summer wear, both are as soft and pliant as silk. The fourth type is used for netting.

Been Around a Long Time

Learned Japanese anthropologists and historians find that kudzu was first used for weaving by Mongols living in the mountains north of the great wall of China. They still use kudzu vines for making baskets, pack trumplines and suspension bridges. Gradually, in documents dated in the third century the usage moved southward into China. In these documents mention is made of extraction of fibers from kudzu vines and made into light-weight summer garments.

By the end of the Yayoi period (A.D. 200) weaving techniques had become quite refined. The origin of kudzu cloth in Japan is usually traced to a legend. An old woman living in the village of Amagata in Shizouka Prefecture, noticed that a vine growing by a waterfall was frayed by the movement of the water so that its skin had been worn away. Only a number of lustrous white filaments were left. After cutting a number of the vines, which she recognized as kudzu, she removed the fibers and washed them many times.  She wove  them into a cloth which she presented to the feudal lord of Kakegawa. The lord named the waterfall Kappu-no-taki (Kudzu-Cloth-Fall”) and encouraged his subjects to begin producing the cloth. It was made famous in Japan. There are other legends.

Kudzu is no stranger to America. As a plant display at the Japanese pavilions at international expositions in Philadelphia (1876) and New Orleans (1883) kuzu   (kudzu) was admired for its prolific growth and ornamental shape.  By the turn of the century this plant was spreading all over the South as a shade vine and a fodder (hay) source.

Qualities of the Powder

Despite its abundance today in areas of our country we know little of its value as a food source. Kudzu powder is preferred by many discerning confectionery shops, restaurants and households throughout Japan for five basic reasons.  Flavor—its subtle flavor and unique aroma enhance rather than interfere with the delicate flavors of its companion foods.  Texture—although it has excellent jell strength, Kudzu powder results in jelled products that are usually described as soft, smooth and gentle on the tongue.  Translucency—when simmered for several minutes or thoroughly steamed, the powder imparts sparkling clarity and subtle luster to sauces, soups and jelled desserts.  Crispness—when deep frying, dusting with the powder results in a delicate, crunchy golden-brown coating.  Alkalinity, because of its innate alkalinity, the powder can be used to balance small amounts of sweetening in a variety of treats.

Kudzu’s been around us a long time—it thrives in areas where other of our plants do not grow well.  I personally am happy with having very little of the plant on our farm but what about all those good qualities?

We do hope you have a great week and don’t wade off into one of those patches of kudzu—some people have!

You can reach me most of the time at 23541 Highway 6, Batesville, MS 38606 or 662-563-9879

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