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Weeds: They’re What’s For Dinner

I beg to differ with historians. Pearl Harbor was not the first attack on the United States by the Japanese. No, they chose an innocuous Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1876 to launch their insidious attack against our country.

Kudzu growing over an abondoned car and truck in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In their booth they constructed a garden filled with beautiful plants native to Japan. The sweet-smelling blossoms and large leaves of one vine were the delight of their unsuspecting American hosts, and soon gardeners and conservationists were touting the wonderful aesthetic appeal of this plant as well as its soil-erosion control properties.

I am, of course, referring to kudzu – the vine that ate the South.  There are over 7 million kudzu-covered acres in the Southeast, whose steamy, humid weather makes a wonderful climate for this vine to grow in.  Kudzu can grow up to a foot a day, and up to 60 feet in a year. Their tendrils can envelop whole forests, blocking sunlight and killing all other vegetation.

Trying to kill it is impossible – the only thing you can hope for is control. One herbicide actually makes the stuff grow faster!

Is kudzu nothing more than a blight on the earth? The Japanese eat it; it’s been used in alternative medicines for years. How many weeds and undesirable plants are there in our native environments that could actually be used for food? We cut and trim and treat to get the perfect lawn, the gorgeous landscape, but these wild-growing plants can be a wonderful food source for any survival situation.


Besides the many practical applications of kudzu (the vines are excellent for weaving baskets), they’re an excellent food source as well. Many take the blossoms that are in bloom from the end of July through September and make jelly out of them.

Kudzu has no bitter after-taste and is similar in taste to kale or mustard greens. Some folks deep-fry the leaves as a unique alternative to potato chips. You can make a powder from the root that is an excellent substitute for cornstarch. Kudzu powder gives a smooth texture to your dishes without the starchy taste.

In addition, kudzu has some amazing medicinal properties. One of the earliest plants used in traditional Chinese medicine, kudzu has been shown to cut the craving for alcohol by as much as half. Tests have shown that animals given kudzu show less alcohol-induced liver damage. This plant also has some anti-inflammatory properties as well. Kudzu helps widen the blood vessels near the heart and brain, as well as regulating heart rhythm. Since many types of migraines are believed to be the result of blood vessel contractions in the brain, migraine sufferers may benefit from a tea made from the plant.

Similar in looks to poison ivy, gatherers must be aware of the differences between the two plants. In addition, since folks in the South tend to use everything short of napalm to get rid of the stuff, don’t use any clippings that may have been chemically treated.


In many countries the dandelion is considered a wonderful food and delicacy. Here in the United States however, we tend to think of it as a noxious weed that must be removed. Every part of the dandelion plant is edible and the plant is one of the most nutritionally-dense greens around.

Similar in taste to arugula, the bitterness of the more mature plant can be offset by blanching the leaves before fully cooking. The ideal harvest time is in the spring before first bloom and in the fall after first frost when they lose some of their bitterness.

Dandelions can be sautéed, steamed, boiled, or eaten raw. Dandelion root has been used as a substitute for coffee.

Medicinally, dandelion has been used for years to treat digestive disorders and arthritis. It’s a natural diuretic that is rich in potassium.

As with kudzu, dandelion gatherers should avoid any areas that have the potential of chemical treatment (roadside medians, utility easements, etc.).

Red & White Clover

Used by bees to make the sweetest of honeys, clover is high in protein and edible cooked or raw. Since they are part of the legume family (peas, beans), the greens from the plant may be harder to digest when eaten raw. The flowers are tasty as well, but it’s recommended that they be soaked in salted water for a while, or briefly boiled or cooked before eating so that they’re easier to digest as well.

Clover has a number of medicinal properties and uses. It is used to treat coughs and respiratory ailments since it has an expectorant effect on the lungs. It also stimulates the immune system. However, clover does have blood-thinning effects on the body, so any person taking prescription blood-thinners would need to be careful about eating clover. Those who are about to have surgery or near childbirth should not eat clover because of its blood-thinning properties.

Cat Tail

Cat tails are a very versatile and common edible wild food. A marshy, wetland plant, every part of it is useful. Parts of the stem can be roasted like potatoes. The flower stalks can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, or baked. Cat tails can even be used to make flour for baking.

Native Americans used the root stalks, boiled and mashed, as a paste for burn, scabs, sores, inflammation, and even smallpox sores. They were also good for intestinal problems.

These are but a few of the native wild plants that can be used for food and as alternative therapies in survival situations. God’s bounty is over all the earth, and it’s time we re-evaluate the way we look at these plants in terms of food and health.

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  1. I enjoyed this article, and would like to know where to find recipes for preparation of these wild plants.

    • Hi Fay, check out Lynda has a book named “The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide” and can be bought as an ebook too. She has over 50 recipes in there. They are all vegetarian recipes but says meat can be added to them but just thought I would let you know. Also, she gives wild food interviews on Mondays at which are archived so there is days worth of info there.


      1. DO NOT collect plants closer than 200 feet from a road.
      2. NEVER collect from areas sprayed with herbicides, pesticides,
      or other chemicals.
      3. ALWAYS be familiar with all dangerous plants in the area.
      4. POSITIVELY IDENTIFY all plants you intend to use for
      food or medicine. Check against three good field references
      with excellent illustrations.

      If you are trying a plant for the first time, after checking your field guides, do the following:
      1. Snip a piece of the plant and roll between your fingers and
      sniff. Discard if objectionable. If you like the smell, then rub the
      tiny piece on your GUMS, above your teeth.
      2. Wait twenty minutes.
      3. CHECK For burning, nausea, stinging, itching (all allergy
      results). Poisonous plants USUALLY produce one or more of
      these symptoms.
      4. If no untoward reaction results, take another tiny bit of the
      plant and make a weak tea. (Place piece in teacup, pour boiling
      water over, cover, and steep for 10 minutes. Ingest a small
      5. Wait another twenty minutes! Check for signs of irritation. If
      none, then reheat the tea and sip slowly.
      6. Keep all samples away from children and pets. Keep edibles separate
      from samples to be identified—poisons will give their bad
      qualities to food through contamination. Bag foods, poisons,
      and samples separately.
      7. Be aware that heating or boiling does not always destroy toxicity.

      (Runyon 2007, p22-23)

  2. In some areas the cattails are protected because they are wetlands plants. Check your local ordinances before harvesting.

    Purslane, a weed common throughout the US, has the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids of any plant. It should be the first thing in your salad.

    Check for wild amaranth (called Vleeta in Greece). It can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach. My mother in law makes it into pan fried patties. Yummy!

  3. What are the kudzu-like vines we have in Michigan? They cover and kill thousands of trees. I’m told we don’t have kudzu in Michigan.

    • I will be very interested in what you find out about the plant you are describing. I live in NE Ohio, and for the first time in over 30 years of gardening in the same garden, we had a real battle with some plant we have not seen before. Does yours have white flowers that grow on tendrils that wind around everything it touches, from sweet corn to lilac bushes? After trying to pull the plants out, which didn’t work, I tried smothering them with very deep mulch, but they grew right through it. Can someone help?

  4. In Michigan we have Poison Oak that climbs trees and helps kill them, however this usually attacks trees already in trouble. Beware, as rashes like Poison Ivy are common, even when handling in the winter. You can tell Poison Oak in winter as the central vine climbs the trunk, vertical on big trunks and wraps around smaller branches near the top in spiral fashion, hard to get off tree when harvesting. In spring/summer the vines have groups of leaves in 3’s the same as Poison Ivy. There are smaller “roots” that grab the trunk out of the sides of the main stem at regular intervals. Old vines are about 1 inch thick near the base of trees. Most are probably about 1/2 inch in diameter at the most.. We have a lot on the farm and cut it off our firewood every time we harvest. I have no allergy to this plant…yet….cut quite a bit off firewood today in the woods. Here is a link to the DNR website, invasive species, for Michigan:,1607,7-153-10370_12146_12214—,00.html

  5. Rabbits love kudzu my brother, who is from Georgia and a forester, told me. I am delighted to know it is edible and safe for human consumption too. This may be a Godsend for the coming food shortages.

  6. When I was a small boy I used to go with my grandmother and mother to pick wild strawberrys,doc and I think kale. I almost 56 now and have forgotten what wild doc and kale looked like. One of them also told me cattail roots can be prepared and taste like lintels. Sorry about the spelling.

  7. You will not find kudzu in any substantial amounts in a livestock pasture because the animals LOVE it. Even pigs will devour it. It is said to be very nutritious and great for milk production.

  8. We do not have kudzu up here in the Pacific Northwest, hope we never do. Not that the food or medicinal uses would be objectionable, but we laready have too much English Ivy that ruins forests, however, if we could trade this off for kudzu, due to it’s usefulness (ivy has no purpose but to make me sneeze and choke up), I might even consider.

    Foraging is something I was brought up with. During the school year, usually in mid spring, all of the local schools would have “outdoor school”, where kids and teachers stayed up in the mountains and kids were taught about what was useful and edible, where and how to find it. Though, having grown up here, I knew most of it, it was fun, albeit sopping wet.

    Anyone know of anymore books about useful and edible plant life? It is something I think, along with stocking up, would be essential to my family.


      “Anyone know of anymore books about useful and edible plant life? It is something I think, along with stocking up, would be essential to my family.”

      Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons is a classic and is available on Amazon.

  9. too adorable for words((: on Pinterest | Pigs, Mini Pigs …

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