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.
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 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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