Ways to Use Kudzu and Other Exotic Invasive Plants

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Kudzu Invasive Plants

It’s the heart of summer and the weeds in my garden are taking over. Those I can control by pulling, but some of the plants along the edges are exotic invasives, unwanted plants from another land that seem to thrive right where you don’t want them.

What are exotic invasive plants?

Exotic invasive plants are those that are not native to the area in which they are transplanted and have abundant root, seed or other propagation systems, making them near impossible to get rid of. In the past, many exotic invasive plants were brought to other areas to control erosion or for their uniqueness. Not realizing the consequences it would have years down the road has cost us plenty – in land, native plants, and time and money.

One big example is Kudzu, the vine that ate the south. Originally it was brought to the US for erosion control, which it does admirably, often growing at a rate of 4 inches a day. But there are uses for it, along with many other unwanted plants that are not native to your area.

Uses For Exotic Invasive Plants

First, let me say I do not advocate growing any of these, or other exotic invasive plants, intentionally. In fact, to do so in many areas can result in fines from the Department of Agriculture. But, if you do have them and have tried to get rid of them unsuccessfully, there are alternatives. Many have uses that you would never have dreamed of. This is by no means an all-inclusive list as many new plants are being discovered each year.

  • Ailanthus – Tree of Heaven can be used as an ornamental or shade tree. They are fast growing and can be used as coppice wood for outside fires. You can read more about coppicing here.
  • Mimosa trees are great for filtered shade. Plant astilbe and lady’s slippers under them. They are also an important tree for bees.
  • Garlic mustard can be ground up and used as a poultice. They can also be used as flavoring as you would garlic.
  • Bittersweet can be made into decorations such as wreaths and swags. To make the dried vines easier to work with, and render the fruit and seeds unable to germinate, soak in very hot water for an hour or so.
  • Russian or autumn olive can be coppiced and provide flowers for bees and fruit for birds. Some retain their leaves in the winter making them good for shelter for wildlife in the cold months.
  • English ivy is good for ground cover in difficult areas like steep hills. The vines can also be used for basket weaving.
  • Privet can be coppiced and used for firewood. It grows back thick and can be used for screening.
  • Paulowania, or Princess or Empress Tree, is very fast growing. It makes a great coppice tree.  Remove the flowers after they are spent so that seed head can’t form.
  • Bradford Pear is often planted for beauty in the spring and fall. Its weak limbs often break in storms making it a good firewood tree.
  • Kudzu has many uses. Its root has a starch that can replace cornstarch. The root also has phytoestrogens that can be used by women with reproductive system problems. An extract can also be made from the root that can help alcoholics in treatment. (Read more about this in a study from The National Institute of Medicine.) The vines can be woven into baskets, and the flowers have been used to make jelly and soap. The entire plant can be used for animal feed, often having up to 18% protein. It can also be baled and used later. Once cut and dried, it won’t take root anywhere.
  • Multiflower rose runs rampant in this area. It has small flowers in the spring followed by tiny hips, or fruit, in the fall. They contain a very high concentration of Vitamin C and other antioxidants. I dry them by the gallon! The vine has numerous thorns and can be used for fencing. I found one growing near my bluebird house and wrapped it around the post. Now I have a very powerful snake deterrent without chemicals.
  • Bamboo grows wild in many parts of the country. There are two types – running and clumping. Clumping will form a mat that stays as a clump. Running types are different in that they produce roots that will spread underground. To control them, simply mow over the growing tips a few times a year. They’ll stay contained if this is done. But if you find you have an overabundance, you can use it in many ways. Poles can be cut and dried for fishing poles, art projects, building materials, and even flooring. I’ve seen some very nice bamboo planks for inside the home. The shoots can be eaten steamed or pickled. When left intact, it creates a great semi-shaded area for planting under it.
  • Air potatoes or wild yams produce a compound used for PMS and menopause.
  • Crown vetch is a legume and provides nitrogen for the ground. Mow it while in flower to prevent seed head from forming.
  • Burning bush makes a great screening plant and provides nice fall color.
  • Mahonia, or Leather Leaf Holly, isn’t really a holly. It blooms very early and can provide winter color in the garden. It is also a great source of berberine, the same compound found in goldenseal. Make a tincture (see how here) from the roots and take a few drops a day to boost your immune system.
  • Barberry – red or green – can be used in the same way.
  • Scotch broom and gorse are invasive in some areas. Cut the branches and enjoy them as cut flowers.
  • Water lettuce and hyacinth can be composted. I got three plants one year and ended up with six wheelbarrows full of them by summers end. Into the compost they went. Because they have extensive root systems, they mine nutrients out of the water and act as filters. Those nutrients will help fuel your compost and add much more to it.

Additional Notes

You might notice that I have mentioned using most of the wood for coppicing in outdoor fires. Some trees contain toxins that are released when burned, so they shouldn’t be used indoors. Fumes can dissipate in the air easier when burned outdoors, so there is little worry there. And always be careful with what you use. Barberry contains numerous thorns and can really hurt! Seeds can be spread easily, so take care when harvesting that you don’t let them get away.

Again, I’m not advocating growing these plants, but if you have them, why not make use of them?

Do you have any interesting uses for invasive plants in your yard?


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. Kathy says

    I, too, would like to see pictures of these invasive plants! I probably have them and don’t even know it!

  2. Becah says

    I thought this was a great article. I was amused that quite a few of the pernicious plants mentioned above are often used in landscaping, and this article helped me identify a few trees I was wondering about. I live in southeast arizona though, so I suppose our harsh weather can keep many of them under control. I’ve been coppicing mesquite trees for years, I just never knew there was a word for it! Lol.

  3. Rita Curry Porter says

    I use Brazillian Peppertree. Aside from its ability to cure cancer and a host of other illnesses, which you can find on troipilab.com, it also makes wonderful tonal wind chimes.
    Cut to different lenghts it will sound the scale.
    Its berries are the red pepper you buy in the store.
    The branches I use for handles on my tote bags I make from feed bags.
    It makes a tremendous wind brake in hurricanes, and is a wonderful shade tree.
    All it takes is maintenance.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      We had Brazilian Pepper trees in Florida where I lived for a few years. I used the branches for cut flowers and when the berries were ripe I’d dry them for use later. The wood chips seemed to keep the fire ants away. I didn’t know about the wind chimes. And of course, the wind break. Thanks!

  4. Jackie says

    Thank you! As a landscaper in NW Florida I run into “just use round up” which I HATE. Now I can make other suggestions! Sigh, which they probably won’t take…. But I can try…

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Yep, you can always try Jackie. There are some, especially friends of mine that are Master Gardeners, that tell me the same thing. Just use Round Up…so, I’m going to make my own. I’ve seen a few naturally based recipes. I’ll report back with what works..and what doesn’t.

  5. Sue Cummings says

    I live in Montana and we don’t have any of the plants you mentioned. But we have our own. I’ve tried to use as many as I can. Dandelion leaves are great in salads in the spring and the flowers can be used to make wine. There’s a plant called prickly lettuce that grows EVERYWHERE as a weed. It’s called prickly lettuce because it IS lettuce an those leaves can also be used as a green when they’re young. Cattails have been used for thousands of years as a food. The fluff was used by Native Americans as disposable diapers.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      I’ve heard of prickly lettuce being eaten as well, Sue, though it seems like there might be better options. I’m scared to try it! We have it all over here too. I’d forgotten about how invasive cattails can be, but yes, they are a great food source. I didn’t know about the diapers, though. I’m going to have to check that out!

  6. Kathy Godfrey says

    Hi! I don’t have any uses for invasive plants, but I’m wondering if you can tell me how to eradicate morning glory. My neighbor has it, and it has begun to take over my fence and garden. It’s choking my strawberries. I’ve tried pulling it up, but it just keeps coming back and there is so much that I can’t possibly pull all of it up. Can you help??

    • Debra Maslowski says

      I have an abundance of morning glory too, Kathy and the only sure way to get it is to pull it up before the flowers set seed. It spreads by seed, so stopping that should help. You can use plain old hot water too, but be careful not to get it on or near plant you want to save. I’m working on another article on how to get rid of these type of things.

  7. Lillian says

    Please consider doing a companion piece to this article with suggestions on how to remove/eradicate these invasives as well as advocating use. The best thing we can do is to consume them AS WE GET RID OF THEM! It would also be great to point to any of the wonderful resources for alternative plants (oak leaf hydrangea instead of burning bush in Virginia, for example.)

    Thanks for the suggestions on use, and check out this project:http://eattheinvaders.org/

      • Lillian says

        Marvelous, thank you! It would be wonderful to connect the two pieces so that folks who can eradicate get that resource, and those who can’t, get this!

        As an ecological educator I often struggle with invasives. My us v/s them instinct wants to despise them, but I try to remember that they are just organisms doing what they do. Maybe one day I’ll come across them in their native habitat, and I hope I can appreciate them there. Regardless, I will continue to teach stewardship and remove invasives whenever I can. Than you for doing the same!

  8. Robin says

    First off, I love your blog! We learn a lot of stuff from what you share. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. Planting invasives is a horrible thing to do and, in some parts of the country, illegal. We work with several agencies on ridding our countryside here in Maine of invasives and the idea of actually planting them is something that should not be taught. With climate change, we see Kudzu making its way farther north every year and the idea of it getting to Maine and killing of our major source of revenue is terrifying. We also have active bamboo eradication efforts going on, too. Please, don’t plant invasive plants!

    • Matt Jabs says

      Please read the article before commenting.

      In the article, “First, let me say I do not advocate growing any of these, or other exotic invasive plants, intentionally. In fact, to do so in many areas can result in fines from the Department of Agriculture. But, if you do have them and have tried to get rid of them unsuccessfully, there are alternatives. Many have uses that you would never have dreamed of.”

      Also in the article, “Again, I’m not advocating growing these plants, but if you have them, why not make use of them?”

  9. creekrose says

    we eat the autumn olive berries . . . . they’re tart and juicy by the handfull, and picked, cooked, strained of seeds, with honey added then canned they make a yummy jam.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      When first came to Western North Carolina, Creekrose, I was told that autumn olive was poisonous, along with wine berries and cinquefoil berries. I guess I may have a good tolerance, because I eat a lot of them. Autumn olive reminds me of chokecherries, though the pit is large. I’ll have to try the jam, but I do eat them fresh. Wine berries are like a large watery raspberry and are just delicious. I don’t really like false strawberries or cinquefoil berries, because they’re really seedy and bland.

  10. Peggy Barnett says

    I really enjoy all of your articles. This one make me glad that I live in the dessert and we do not have most of those plants growing naturally.

  11. Derek James Zary says

    Hello Debra.
    Thank you for information.
    Just a suggestion, if you can do it…
    For us dummies, that lack knowledge of plants and herbs, hehe,
    It would be major helpful, to have pictures of much of these plants.
    I have several invasive type plants, and take notice of plants in and around the area of the city. Which is which is the main problem however.
    Afterall, even in the bible, it says to use ALL, the plants and herbs of the Earth, and I believe this.
    Tanks, if ya do this.
    O’CMON, why not?? If ya don’t.
    Tehehehe, 🙂

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Thanks for the suggestion, Derek. I haven’t been able to take photos of the plants with the camera that I have, but I just got a tablet which seems to do pretty well. I’m going to take a few and submit them to the editors and see if they can use them.