Harvest the Giant Kudzu Roots
How to Harvest Kudzu
Kudzu is an invasive plant with long-reaching vines, bright green leaves, and purple flowers. It is possible to harvest kudzu for usage in both cooking and crafts. Start by locating a patch of kudzu in an area that hasn't been sprayed with herbicides. Head into the kudzu and snip off young green leaves and flowers using a pair of garden shears. Cut down any vines, if needed. Dig up any roots using a shovel. Wash all of these plant pieces thoroughly before using.
Starting the Harvest
Know how to identify it.Kudzu has large, green vines that can climb as high as 100 feet (30 m) in trees. The leaves have three-parts and are between 4–6 inches (10.2–15.2 cm) in length. The flowers are purple and smell strongly of grapes. The roots are thick and go deep underground.
- Make sure to watch for poison ivy, which is often found intertwined with kudzu. They both have three-part leaves of a similar bright green color. However, kudzu leaves are usually larger and aren’t as smooth on the sides.
- Some areas offer seminars on how to identify and use kudzu. Find one by entering your location and “kudzu seminar” into a search engine.
Know where to find it.Look for it in overgrown fields or even along the sides of roads. When you locate an area to harvest, make sure the plant hasn't been sprayed by herbicide or exposed to a lot of car exhaust. Kudzu can absorb toxins in the surrounding air.
Harvest at the right times.Kudzu can grow almost anywhere, but you are less likely to find significant growths in the winter periods. The winter weather kills off many of the leaves and green shoots of the kudzu, making the roots easier to access in colder weather. If you are interested in the leaves, then it is best to harvest them in the late spring and summer. The flowers reach their peak in August and stay active until September.
Wear proper clothing.To harvest kudzu, you will need to go into overgrown areas, possibly with thorns and other hazards. Choose an outfit that fully covers both your arms and legs. If you plan to dig up the roots, bring a sturdy pair of gloves and wear work boots as well. Put on protective eyewear to keep your eyes safe from swinging vines.
Take safety precautions.Because of the foliage surrounding the kudzu, and the kudzu itself, it may be difficult to see the ground. This means that snakes and other dangerous animals and insects can be hard to see. For that reason, let other people know when you are going out to harvest and, if possible, don’t go alone. Try to make as much noise as possible when harvesting to scare off any animals.
Breaking Down the Plants
Do a contact test.As with any plant, it is possible to be allergic to kudzu. Before you start harvesting the plant, take one of the leaves and rub it onto the back of your hand. If you are worried about a reaction, do this at home. Watch to see if your hand looks irritated or red.
Pick the blossoms.Use scissors or garden shears to sever the flowers from the small stems that attach them to the larger vines. The flowers will be purple in color and will smell strongly of grapes. Look for the flowers that are open if you plan on using them for cooking.
- It is possible to keep the flowers for up to one day in the refrigerator.
- Remove the stems from the blossoms before using. Boiling them will also cleanse them of dirt and remove any bugs.
Strip off the leaves.If you plan to use the leaves for cooking, then choose those that are young and green. Gently pluck them off the stems using scissors, garden shears, or your gloved hands. Place them into a basket being careful not to crush them.
Strip off any bark.Some people use kudzu bark for various craft and sewing projects. Remove the bark from the larger vines by going to the base where it meets the ground. Use a pair of sharp shears or a knife to peel away sections of bark. Be prepared to tug a bit to remove it, as the bark will be stuck rather firmly to the inside of the vine.
- The bark itself can be rather easy to tear once removed, so be careful when handling it if you want it intact.
Chop off any younger vines.The green, thin vines that climb well into the trees can be used for weaving and other projects. Start by pulling them out from the trees as much as you can. Make any cuts with garden shears to separate the vines from others. Try to get as long of pieces as possible.
Dig up the roots.Kudzu roots range widely in size and depth. Surface roots are about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in diameter and only go a few feet deep. Mature roots can weigh over 200 pounds and be over eight feet deep. To access the smaller roots, use a hand and push shovel. Carefully remove the dirt around the root before severing it and pulling it out.
- Roots taste the best when harvested in the fall. Older roots are tougher in texture.
Soften and split the vines, if needed.If you plan to work with the vines and need them pliable, place them in a large pot with some water. Steam them for a bit and then remove. After they’ve cooled, use a sharp knife to make a cut at the end of the vine and peel downwards from there. Apply pressure to the vine halves to separate the fibers.
Blanch the leaves.After you’ve removed the leaves, place them in boiling water and remove after one minute. This will clean off any extra dirt and kill any kudzu bugs. If you plan to eat the leaves, boiling them will also remove the fine hairs on their surface.
Harvest as much as you need or want.Kudzu will keep growing no matter how much you harvest. As long as you are careful about where you pick in order to avoid pesticides, you should be able to harvest as often as you choose as much as you choose. In fact, many people will consider it a public service.
Considering Other Options for Controlling Kudzu
Keep it away from your land.Once kudzu gets going it is very hard to stop and remove. Instead, it is best to watch out for the boundaries of your land and kill any kudzu that crosses over. Some people build a stone wall, but you’ll still need to pull the vines down.
- Be aware that kudzu seeds can also spread deep in the ground.
Build mulch barriers.Instead of chopping down vines, which can make the kudzu spread even more, erect natural barriers instead. Pile grass clippings or wood pieces around the perimeter of the land. Reinforce these barriers as often as possible to prevent encroachment.
Practice caution when applying herbicide.If you try to kill kudzu with chemicals, you will likely fail. Kudzu has shown itself to be very resistant to plant and weed killers. Do not apply any herbicides to kudzu that you plan to harvest for consumption.
Smother it.As with most plants, kudzu does require light and oxygen in order to survive and grow. Try to kill off the kudzu by robbing it of these things by covering it up. Smother it by placing a blanket of grass clippings over the base roots. Get a tarp or plastic sheet and cover the entire kudzu plant.
Let animals feed on it.Bring some goats into the area and let them free graze. They are capable of eating vast amounts of kudzu shoots, significantly lessening new growth. Goats are also very capable of navigating the rough terrain that kudzu often grows in.
Video: First Kudzu Harvest: 2 Videos combined!!!
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