A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
Pueraria lobata syn. P. thunbergiana
The herb called the kudzu is a high climbing, coarse textured twining and trailing type of perennial vine found in parts of Asia and naturalized elsewhere. Chinese traditional medicine makes use of the huge root that grows to the size of an adult human body - the kudzu called ge gen in China, is a major source for many modern herbal products as well as traditional Chinese medications. In China, the kudzu or ge gen is found growing in shaded areas along mountains, in the fields and along roadsides, in thickets and thin forests all over the country. Herbal products are also made from the root of another related Asian species of kudzu, called Pueraria thomsonii. The main compounds found in the root of the kudzu are the isoflavones, like the compound daidzein, also included are the isoflavone glycosides, like daidzin and the compound called puerarin. In any batch of kudzu roots, the total content of isoflavone often varies widely from 1.77%-12.0% depending on the growing conditions of the herb. The compound puerarin is always found in the highest concentration among all the isoflavones, second is daidzin, followed by daidzein. The chemical compounds found in kudzu root are similar to other flavones-like substances and aid in bringing about improvement in the microcirculation as well as blood flow along the coronary arteries in the body. The ability of both the daidzin and daidzein compounds to inhibit the desire for alcohol was demonstrated during an animal study in 1993, which was subsequently widely publicized. The urge for alcohol could be stemmed by the root extract of kudzu according to the authors of the report, and they supported the use of the kudzu root extract as a supplemental herbal treatment for alcoholism. However, controlled clinical studies conducted on human subjects have not proven this property of kudzu extract.
It is interesting to note that the term Kudzu first appeared in Nihonshoki and Kojiki in the form of vine or Kazura generally employed by people living in Kuzu, a region in the vicinity of contemporary Yoshino, Nara prefecture or county. However, it is yet to be ascertained if the name has been derived from the people or the people got their name from the plant. In fact, people have been using kudzu for more than 1300 years and it is assumed that the use of this herb dates back to even an earlier period. Documents from the Nara as well as the Heian era hint that kudzu was harvested and sent as a portion of the tax. Even to this day, ‘Yoshino Kudzu' possesses the most excellent kudzu powder thus far. It may be noted that the Kagoshima prefecture is the largest manufacturer of kudzu products.
Diseases such as measles are usually treated using the ge gen remedy in China; this use of the herb is often combined with the use of the sheng ma - Cimicifuga foetida - herb. The various aches and pains in the musculature are also treated using the ge gen herb, in particular those that are linked with the onset of fever or those that tend to affecting the muscles along the neck and the upper back of the patients. Problems like headache, sudden spells of dizziness, or even skin numbness induced by high blood pressure in the person can also be treated using the ge gen. Problems like the diarrhea and dysentery can also be treated using a remedy made from the kudzu herb. The ju hua herb mixed with kudzu root is used in China to treat excessive intoxication with alcohol; it is also used to treat the effects of hangovers, as well as long term alcoholism in people.
The leaves of kudzu contain high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C, in addition to protein and calcium, while the roots of the herb have rich starch content. The flowers of this species are an exceptional source for honey.
Kudzu bears purple flowers, which are used to prepare a sweet jelly, which is more familiar to the people inhabiting the southern regions of the United States. People who have consumed this jelly have described it to have a flavour akin to a bubblegum or something like a cross between peach jelly and apple jelly. This glutinous substance has a golden yellow hue.
Findings of several studies have demonstrated that kudzu has the ability to lessen the desire for alcohol as well as hangover from its excessive consumption. Any individual who ingests kudzu will continue to drink alcohol, but they will consume much less than what is consumed by people who have not taken kudzu. While the means for this action of kudzu is yet to be ascertained, it is believed that this may have to do something with metabolism of alcohol in addition to the reward circuits within the brain.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), kudzu is known as gé gēn and is believed to be among the 50 basic herbs. Chinese herbalists employ kudzu to treat conditions such as vertigo, tinnitus as well as Wei syndrome (apparent heat near the surface).
It may be noted that kudzu was introduced in the southern region of the United States with overwhelming ecological results. People in this part of America use kudzu to make lotions, soaps, compost and even jelly. It has also been proposed that kudzu may turn out to be an important asset for producing cellulosic ethanol.
People, who wish to make use of phytoestrogens to balance their personal estrogen levels, like those having premenstrual syndrome (PMS), caused by elevated oestrogen in relation to progesterone and menopausal women who may possibly be having low estrogen levels may consume kudzu. Similarly, people who desire to augment their Bone Mineral Density (BMD), for instance people having or those who are susceptible of developing osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Individuals desiring to postpone the effects of aging, in addition to the ailments related to the aging process will benefit if they take kudzu. Similarly, people who wish for reduce their consumption of alcohol as well as the consequences of prolonged alcohol consumption will also find kudzu beneficial. Kudzu is also useful for people who desire to control their blood sugar levels since the dietary fiber in this herb may well assist in inhibiting the discharge of sugars from carbohydrates maintaining a very stable blood sugar level.
Other medical uses
Besides being useful for therapeutic purposes, kudzu also has culinary uses. For instance, the tender (non-timbered) parts of kudzu can be consumed. The young leaves of this herb may be employed in salads or even cooked in the form of a leafy vegetable. Similar to the squash flowers, kudzu flowers are also battered and fried for consumption. On the other hand, the roots, which are packed with starch, may be used to prepare as a root vegetable. In fact the starch rich roots are pounded into an excellent powder and used for preparing an assortment of Wagashi and herbal medications. When kudzu powder is added to water and heated, it becomes lucid and adds gumminess to the food. Occasionally, kudzu is also referred to as the ‘Japanese arrowroot' owing to the comparable culinary results produced by it.
Habitat and cultivation
The kudzu is a native plant growing in the wilds of China, Japan - eastern Asia in general; wild naturalized populations of the ge gen herb also exist in the US. The main regions for the cultivation of ge gen in China lie in the central and eastern provinces. During autumn or spring, harvest and unearthing of the root takes place in preparation for storage and processing.
Cerebral blood flow in patients affected by arteriosclerosis is believed to be increased by the ge gen remedy. The herb also eases stiffness and neck pain in patients. The desire for alcohol is possibly suppressed by ge gen, as suggested by some US research - these results need verification and further studies.
Extracts obtained from the roots of Kudzu have demonstrated that they are effective in slowing down the development of Advanced Glycation End products. These products are strongly involved in the aging as well as chronic ailments related to aging, for instance asthma, diabetes, arthritis, heart ailments and atherosclerosis. Similarly, isoflavonoids isolated from kudzu have shown to motivate the cells which results in the formation of new bone as well as be responsible for an augmented Bone Mineral Density.
In China, herbalists have been using kudzu for several centuries to neutralize intoxication owing to excessive alcohol consumption. Currently, there is scientific evidence to support the assortment that ingestion of kudzu considerably lessens the amount of alcohol consumption by heavy drinkers, in addition to diminishing the hangover and withdrawal symptoms. However, it is yet to be ascertained what mechanism of kudzu is responsible for such effects. However, scientists at the Harvard Medical School assume that kudzu may possibly accelerate the pace of alcohol reaching the brain - denoting that the consequences of drinking alcohol are felt more rapidly and this, in turn, diminishes the craving to drink excessive alcohol.
Studies have now shown that kudzu may also possess a healing consequence on fibrosis of the liver, which may be caused owing to constant heavy alcohol consumption, in addition to taking diets rich in cholesterol.
Chemical analysis of kudzu has revealed that the herb encloses many helpful isoflavones, counting daidzein (an anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory agent), genistein (an anti-leukemic agent) and daidzin (a substance that puts off development of cancer). In addition, kudzu is also a distinct source of the isoflavone called puerarin. The chemical compounds found in kudzu root have the ability to influence neurotransmitters (counting serotonin, glutamate and GABA). Kudzu has also demonstrated its effectiveness in treating migraine as well as cluster headache.
Dosages suggested by the 1985 Chinese Pharmacopoeia for the kudzu root are to take 9-15 grams daily during treatment. Doses of the kudzu standardized root tablets at 10 mg of weight per tablet, which is equal to about 1.5 grams of the crude root are used widely in the treatment of angina pectoris in patients. The equivalent dosage can be said to be about 30-120 mg of the root extract taken 2 - 3 times daily.
Side effects and cautions
At the dosages recommended here, there have been no reports of kudzu toxicity in humans.
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