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Ask anyone living in Georgia about his least favorite plant, and there’s a good chance you’ll learn a few things about the mile-a-minute vine or The Vine That Ate the South. Sadly, its nicknames aren’t inaccurate. Kudzu occupies an estimated seven million acres of land in the United States, mostly in the southeast, and continues to gain 120,000-150,000 acres annually. Controlling this invasive via mowing, removal, and herbicides costs millions of dollars a year, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re much closer to eradicating it.
With kudzu clearly here to stay, many people have looked to alternative uses for the vine to make the most of a bad situation. The good news is kudzu would be a pretty useful plant if it wasn’t steamrolling everything in sight. In its native environment in Southeast Asia, kudzu has long been used as an herbal treatment for heart ailments and muscle pains, and a source of food. In fact, kudzu has been used in all kinds of dishes, including casseroles and jellies. Kudzu isn’t just a source of food for us—it has been found to be a great source of feed for livestock, particularly goats. Goats are so fond of eating kudzu that they are being used in some areas to control its spread. The thick woody vines of the kudzu plant are used by artisans to craft baskets and sculptures. The oil from the fragrant kudzu blossoms can be used in beauty products, like lotion, and to make scented candles. Perhaps most interesting of all, kudzu has been examined for its potential use as a biofuel.
Goldenrod is a weed that has been used in teas, tonics, and medicines for many years, but it just can’t shake its bad reputation among allergy sufferers. Goldenrod is commonly fingered by those with the sneezes and sniffles as the cause of their pollen woes, and while some maintain that ragweed is the real culprit, goldenrod nevertheless remains a hated weed by many people.
Herbalists and experts in traditional medicine have long touted the health benefits of using goldenrod. Frequently ingested as a tincture or tonic, it is used as a diuretic in the treatment of urinary and kidney problems, and a medicine for those with asthma and respiratory illnesses. Goldenrod is also applied to the skin to soothe minor cuts, scrapes, and burns, and is a recommended treatment for eczema. The list of medicinal uses for goldenrod is quite long, despite it being seen as a source of seasonal health problems. Goldenrod is also dried and used commonly as a non-medicinal tea. Fun fact: after outraged colonists flipped an entire shipment of tea into Boston Harbor in 1773, they concocted their own beverage, called “Liberty Tea,” to replace the unfairly taxed brew coming from England—this tea was brewed from the goldenrod weed. This isn’t goldenrod’s only connection to our history—Thomas Edison, world-renowned for his work on the telephone, electric light bulbs, cameras, and telegraphs, successfully extracted latex from goldenrod to make rubber for use in tires before synthetic materials dominated the industry. But, when it comes to the gardener, goldenrod is simply a beautiful dried flower for arrangements, and an excellent attractant of bees and butterflies.
As children, blowing or kicking white seed puffs on the lawn, we have all probably heard the dreaded cry, “DON’T DO THAT—YOU’LL GET DANDELIONS ALL OVER THE YARD!” Dandelions are the classic enemy number one when it comes to the home garden. They are self-pollinating for optimal spread and irritation, and their long taproots are tedious to pull intact from the ground, especially in between pavers and bricks. If you slip up and accidentally break the plant off of the root or only extract part of the root, you can rest assured that dandelion will come back to haunt you (and reproduce). Dandelions can be the worst.
When it comes to wild edibles, the dandelion is king. Dandelions are jammed full of vitamins, and every part of the dandelion is edible and safe—right down to that nasty taproot. Vitamins A, K, C, B2 (riboflavin), and E are found in dandelions, as well many minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. They are also a very good source of fiber. If dandelions weren’t such a pest, we might consider them a staple health food—actually, there are those who do. Some people choose to deliberately cultivate dandelions for harvest to take advantage of these nutritional benefits. Aside from being healthy, dandelions are also said to be delicious. Young leaves can be picked and boiled, wilted, steamed, tossed in salads—dandelion greens can be prepared like any other green. The flowers can be popped right into the mouth or battered and fried. Dandelions are a super food that tastes super, too. Knowing the health benefits of regularly eating dandelions, it isn’t much of a surprise that they are also used medicinally. Dandelions are used to treat anything from inflammation to warts to menstrual ailments to liver troubles. The high amount of antioxidants in this little weed makes it a powerful tool in the health arsenal. These antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals could be why dandelions have shown promise in cancer research. Experiments have shown that dandelions could be used to slow the growth of affected cells in certain cancers.
Middle left: Aomorikuma, CC BY-SA 3.0