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Global issues, local perspectives: New Life Journal seeks out area opinions on kudzu to provide perspective and hope about our ever-changing environment.


First, it was "locavore," or a person who consumes locally grown foods, that made it into the sustainable living lextcon. Now, it's "solastalgia," a term used to describe a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home," that's found it's way into sustainable dialogue. A December 2007 article in Wired magazine publicly introduced the term, which Australian philosopher Gelnn Albrecht coined after conducting years of research on the topic. Albrecht interviewed Australians and heard their stories of sadness from watching their native landscape drastically change in the wake of global warming. To create the term, he combined solacium (comfort) and algia (pain) to create a word purposefully akin to "nostalgia."

But "global" is part of the phrase "global warming" for a reason: the effects of our current environmental state are felt across the world. So, it stands to reason that those of us living in the Southeastern U.S. could also be experiencing solastalgia, whether from recent harsh dry spells or the effects on environment and habitat from steep slope development.

And even from kudzu. Okay, at first it might seem like a distant connection. But, after New Life Journal heard about solastalgia, we wanted to bring the global idea down to a more local level. Many would point out kudzu's destruction of native habitat here in the Southeast, which has created a different picture of our great outdoors and left many feeling a longing for the plants and animals that were once abundant here. But, many in the region don't see kudzu from this perspective, although they still might have feelings of solastalgia that stem from other environmental reasons.

So, like a good therapist, New Life Journal wanted to be sure we were talking about the feeling many of you might be experiencing. We wish that we could offer a ritual, holistic remedy, or any prescription to fix the feeling, but we're just a magazine! What we can offer, though, is a variety of perspectives from area residents with a relationship to kudzu. Maybe the article will help you see that kudzu in your backyard as a blessing where you once saw it as a curse, or provide you with motivation to effectively reverse the curse and get back that segment of the natural environment you've been missing.

Remove and Renew

by Kevin Caldwell, a conservation biologist and planner with Mountains-to-Sea Ecological, Inc.

Among the exotic-invasive plants in our region, kudzu is "king" in terms of destroying native non-forested habitats, rare plants and wildlife habitat ... even taking down forest edges in very little time.

The biggest issue here is permanent damage to the native biodiversity of the Southeast--rare "open" habitats, rare species, and native plants and wildlife. I'm stunned to hear when anyone who truly loves these mountains and its forests, plants and wildlife considers kudzu for planting, as just one planting will serve as a source for kudzu's spread to neighboring properties and open habitats even miles away. Birds, wildlife and wind move and carry seeds in ways and distances you cannot imagine. It will invade rare habitats (like cliffs, rock outcrops, bogs, remote areas) that cannot be controlled (or controlled only at great expense) and permanently alter them. They then have to be monitored to make sure plants from the original planting don't re-establish.

There are over 6,000 species of plants in NC alone and thousands in the mountain region. Combined with thousands of horticultural varieties, there are far more plants available for beauty, usage and consumption that don't threaten our biodiversity like kudzu (assuming such plants are not carriers for introduced fungus, etc., which they sometimes are.)

If you really love kudzu, I would encourage you to go and harvest entire patches of it that already exist and then kill off the patch when you leave. You could do this your entire life in the Southeast and always have colonies left.

I have spent the last two years removing kudzu, privet, multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, and other non-native plants on my property, and the results are amazing! Areas originally layered in trilliums and over 20 rare plants, choked down to almost nothing, are now flourishing again as these noxious invaders are eliminated. No more spicebush sprawling with kudzu and honeysuckle. I'll take my spicebush swallowtails (butterflies), thanks!

Open Opportunities

by Paul Gallimore, director of the Long Branch Environmental Education Center

As many of us are already too painfully aware, kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is an invasive exotic species from China and Japan that is killing our native forests and choking out the habitat for our native species, covering as many as 200 additional square miles per year. (Some may speculate that runaway development is the kudzu-like menace of the human world!) If all this weren't enough, it's also recently been implicated in contributing to ground-level ozone pollution and global climate change.

But in spite of the danger, I would ask is there also an opportunity in this crisis? Consider: kudzu is a legume that helps to refortify soils with nitrogen and makes a nutrient-rich mulch. Kudzu is an excellent fodder for livestock, and goats have been successful in eating it into submission, albeit over more than four seasons. Kudzu's grape-like fragrant flowers may be made into jelly. Kudzu root may provide some help to those trying to overcome alcoholism. Kudzu vines are used by wildcrafters for a variety of crafts, including basketry and wreath making. And, through cellulosic bioconversion, kudzu can even be made into ethanol!

My modest proposal: given the current home foreclosure crisis, job losses and economic recession, why not advocate at the state and federal levels for a revival of projects such as those that were undertaken by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's? (No, not the one that originally started spreading Kudzu to control soil erosion!) Now that we know better, we could hire youth and others needing employment for the removal and utilization of kudzu on state and federal land holdings. Educational programs could be designed and conducted for private landowners on how to utilize their kudzu "resource." Ah, turning crises into opportunities!

Proactive Prevention

by Sarah E. Marcinko, plant ecologist with Equinox Environmental Consultation and Design, Inc.

In spite of its long history in the Southeastern U.S., kudzu continues to be the poster child for invasive plant species. Perhaps it's because this highly visible plant tends to elicit a powerful and often emotional response from people. Images of homesteads engulfed by a mammoth, green mass come to mind. Indeed, the environmental effects of the species are indisputable. Yet, compared to other invaders afflicting the Southeastern U.S., kudzu is not as threatening in terms of ecological impacts to significant conservation areas. Nevertheless, kudzu is most likely here to stay, and I believe it's important that, as environmental stewards, we move away from a debate framed as "good" versus "bad" and think more in terms of management goals and objectives. What do we want to achieve and how will we get there?

The extent of kudzu infestations is overwhelmingly large, and the possibility of eradication is impossible without enormous resource investment. Strategic control is our best hope of accomplishing our goals. Fortunately, kudzu is predominantly limited to roadsides and forest edges, but a changing climate may create a new suite of conditions that favor the movement of edge species into forest interiors.


While it remains uncertain how kudzu and other species will respond to climate change, the consensus is that the range of invasive plant species will contract in some areas and expand in others, and new invaders on the horizon today may be at our doorstep tomorrow. It's therefore essential that we are proactive in preventing invaders such as kudzu from establishing in the first place.

Embrace and Enjoy

by Jane and Lino Stanchich, Kushi Institute Certified macrobiotic teachers, lecturers and authors

Did you know that the root of kudzu, also called kuzu (koo zoo) root, is a highly effective, scientifically proven, natural remedy for a myriad of serious health disorders? Along the country highways of the South, we all have seen the dark green leaves and prolific vines that seem to be comically swallowing up trees, telephone poles, houses and barns. It was brought to America from Asia as an ornamental plant and nitrogen-rich cattle feed, but people eat the leaves of kudzu as well.

Though rich fodder for jokes, as well as nutritious fodder for cattle and the soil, the root of the kudzu, high in anti-oxidants and flavonoids, possesses a treasure of healing attributes. Kudzu root has been shown to relieve the following serious health disorders: indigestion, alcohol addiction, diarrhea, intestinal diseases, hormonal imbalance, high blood pressure, blood sugar, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, migraine headaches, flu symptoms, acid reflux, cold symptoms, stomach cramps and more.

You can purchase the valuable kudzu root in a digestible form at local health food stores, macrobiotic food companies, and Asian markets. But, make sure the kudzu is organic and 100 percent kudzu. A staple on the macrobiotic diet, kudzu must be first crushed into a powder and dissolved in cool water then constantly stirred into a pot of warm liquid until it transforms from white to clear. Cooked with water and umeboshi plum, kudzu is a powerful home remedy that strengthens and relieves many imbalances. Remember, always consult your healthcare professional regarding health issues and recommendations; food recommendations should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment.
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Author:Cramer, Maggie
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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