Over the past century, kudzu (rhymes with "mud zoo") has become a mythic feature of the Southern landscape. The vine and its overlapping, plate-size leaves shroud buildings, trees, billboards, broken-down trucks, and anything else too slow to get out of the way.
Native to East Asia, kudzu has been used for centuries there to make tea, health tonics, and fibers for kimonos. Kudzu first arrived in this country as an ornamental vine shading the Japanese pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. In the 1930s and '40s kudzu was known as a miracle vine, providing cover for eroded land and cheap feed for livestock. Aided by the South's warm, moist climate, a long growing season and human carelessness, the vine today blankets some seven million acres of real estate.
Kudzu is totally out of control, and there is no easy or inexpensive way to stop it. Herbicides are expensive, and mowing doesn't work after a vine is established, so researchers are focusing on natural predators; the right insects and fungi can control even the most monstrous of monster weeds.
But there is in fact a small group of hard-core kudzu enthusiasts who have long believed in kudzu's good points. Edith Edwards of North Carolina, the 73-year-old self-styled Kudzu Queen, claims eating the weed keeps her young. She makes hats and Christmas trees out of kudzu vines and even adds it to casseroles.