I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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The Book of Kudzu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. Brookline, Massachusetts: Autumn Press, 1977. $ 4.95 paper; pp. 102.
The Book of Kudzu! Now this is a book that I’ve long waited for. The authors produced two very fine books before this (The Book of Tofu and The Book of Miso) which catered more to natural foods people, vegetarians and macrobiotics alike. Myself, a macro, have both books and use them periodically, but this book . . . ahhh.
Here is a book that I imagine will stimulate both kudzu haters and lovers. For the haters there is an in-depth review of how kudzu came to the southeastern states, from the exhibition of ornamental shade plants in Washington, D. C. by the Japanese, through its propagation and use as pasturage and fodder for farm animals and then as an erosion checker until its rapid growth overtook farms, smothering wooded areas, climbing in, over, and around everything that stood in its way at a foot a day.
James Dickey’s poem, “Kudzu,” prefacing the book, describes the fearsome tenacity of the creeper:
The hogs disappear in the leaves.
The sound is intense, subhuman,
Nearly human with purposive rage.
There is no terror
Sound from the snakes.
No one can see the desperate, futile
Striking under the leaf heads;
Now and then, the flash of a long
Living vine, a cold belly
Leaps up, torn apart, then falls
Under the tussling surface. . . .
Recently scientists have been looking into the kudzu plant as both a fermentation substitute for baking and in the making of ethanol fuel. Researchers are also studying the natural cooling properties of the plant.
Most of The Book of Kudzu centers around the uses and application of kuzu (Japanese for kudzu) in both food and medicinal purposes.
The Japanese have been making good uses of the super growing vine since the thirteenth century. In the section “Cooking With Kuzu,” we’re introduced to kuzu powder, derived from the starch of the root and used in making soups, sauces, jelled salads, deep fried preparations, grains, jelled deserts, confections, thickened vegetables and noodles.
We are also told about the healing properties of kuzu as applied to such classic illnesses as chills, colds, coughs, asthma or nasal congestion, diarrhea, fever, hangover, headaches, indigestion inflammations, influenza, intestinal and digestive disorders, nausea, overconsumption of sweets, being overweight, pregnancy and childbirth, sinus congestion, stiffness or tension, stomach aches and thirst. More serious ailments kuzu can help are: anemia, apoplexy, internal bleeding, colitis, dysentery, gastroenteritis, gonorrhea, kidney ailments, measles, smallpox and tonsilitis.
We are shown how to make kuzu powder from the digging of the roots to the refinement of the final product for home use. For those of us that like community money-making projects or small business ventures, there follows a moderately comprehensive chapter on the harvesting and production of kuzu in a natural, efficient and very profitable manner at six to seven dollars a pound. Who can complain?
And if all this kuzu making doesn’t saturate our senses then we’re finally introduced to the commercial shop in which we are shown the process by which the traditional kuzu masters in Japan, in conjunction with a few modern methods, produce the many tons for both domestic and export distribution.
Further on in the book, we see how the fibers from the vine are used in weaving a cloth noted for its translucent, silk-like fibers, used in making rainwear and the kimono. The hand-loomed cloth takes many hours of hard work to produce, and the result is a much prized product.
And finally, the authors present kuzu’s potential positive impact on the environment when used as cattle feed, compost material, and for soil conservation. A good detailed botanical study of soil preparation and seed propagation instructions complete the text.
For those with a desire for more information there is an appendix, a most comprehensive guide to people and institutions connected with kuzu. And a good glossary.
I recommend this book for botany lovers, natural food lovers, healers, travelers, conservationists, farmers and most kuzu haters. For those who hate, period, I recommend a diet of brown rice for 10 days with an occasional cup of kuzu root tea.