Kudzu is a legume (Pueraria lobata) that specializes in overabundance in our Southern states. Southerners who weave baskets from kudzu, herds of goats and cattle, even herbicides can’t keep up with its growth, which can cover farm equipment and small buildings in one season if not checked. Each vine grows at least a foot every week.
Having only known kudzu from watching acres of it fly by as I traveled by train in the South, I was surprised to hear a close friend say she would rather have some bottles of kudzu tablets than electronic cigarettes to cut down on her smoking.
She said that while exploring a new supplements store in her area, she found a bottle that was labeled “good for addictions.” It was kudzu tablets. On trying a pill three times a day, she found that kudzu made her forget to smoke.
While there haven’t been studies specifically addressing smoking and kudzu, researchers are getting closer to an explanation of the mechanism of smoking-addiction relief. This involves puerarin, a major component of kudzu. Puerarin discourages substances in the brain from getting on their accustomed receptor sites, thereby decreasing the desire to smoke.
Studies on alcoholism show a completely different mechanism at work. Kudzu eliminates a toxic byproduct of alcohol in the liver. The hangover cure that the Chinese have known for hundreds of years is explained by this mechanism.
Despite recognizing the positive effects of kudzu and puerarin, researchers are not sure why they have this effect.
In 1998, there was a Harvard study on alcoholic hamsters that drank the human equivalent of five cases of wine a day. After being given kudzu by injection, they preferred water.
Another study was done in 2005 at Harvard Medical School’s affiliate, McLean Hospital, on binge drinkers. Fourteen heavy drinkers (who drank three or four beers at a time) were enrolled in the study. The laboratory was outfitted like a living room, with a fridge containing everyone’s favorite drinks.
Seven subjects were given kudzu extract in pills every day for a week. The other seven were given placebo. At the end of the week, they all came in for drinks. The ones on kudzu drank about half their usual number, 1.8 beers. They took more, smaller swallows per beer and took longer to drink each bottle.
The placebo group drank the same as usual, 3.5 beers. The next week, the groups were reversed. The ones that had had the placebo were given the kudzu for a week. Again, those on kudzu drank half as much beer, except for one subject who did not seem to be affected by kudzu.
Contrary to the plant’s outward manifestations, its medicinal effects seem to induce moderation. My friend’s smoking did not cease altogether but went from almost a pack a day down to three to five cigarettes a day. The drinkers, including the hamsters, cut down only by half.
Online kudzu supplements were found not to work unless they were 30 to 40 percent kudzu extract. In that case, two pills three times a day were advised. Most supplements were assayed at 1 percent and were said to work because one has to take so many and gets so full of the ingredients that one no longer wants to drink.
Asians have used kudzu in medicine for hundreds of years. In China, it is called “gen gen” and is honored as one of the 50 fundamental herbs of the “Shen Nong Canon” during the Western Han Dynasty, from 206 B.C. to A.D. 9. The plant was commonly used for alcoholics and their ailments, from hangovers to many other ailments affecting every organ and system in the body.
In Japan, the plant is called “kuzu” and has many uses as food and in textile manufacture as well as medicine.