The pueraria lobata plant has been used in medical treatments for hundreds of years, and the root, flower, and leaf can all be utilized. Some people use it to alcoholism, heart and circulatory problems, upper respiratory problems, and skin problems. It has been used by Chinese medical experts since about 200 B.C., and it is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs. Since about 600 B.C., the Chinese people have used it as a hangover medicine.
The plant is a member of the pea family, with reddish-purple flower clusters. It is native to southern Japan and southeast China. In Japan, it is known as kudzu, a name that might be more familiar to many people. In China, the plant is called ge-ge.
Following in the tradition of Chinese medicine, scientists at Harvard Medical School have studied pueraria lobata as a treatment for alcoholism. Some research suggests that drinkers who take it for at least a week will drink less per sitting, but it seems to have little effect on the desire to drink. In the United States, many over-the-counter hangover medicines include extracts of the plant.
Those who practice traditional Chinese medicine also use it as a treatment for high blood pressure and circulatory problems. In the U.S., some research has shown that the plant might be useful to treat cardiovascular disease and chest pain, and it also might have uses as a preventative for heart attacks.
Another traditional use for pueraria lobata is as a treatment for women who are undergoing menopause. Enzymes in the plant might act like estrogen, so people who have conditions that might worsen with exposure to estrogen should not use this plant.
In China and Japan, doses are usually consumed in tea, and it is possible to buy such medicinal teas in the U.S. Pueraria lobata also can be administered intravenously. When taken by mouth, it has no known side effects, but intravenously, it might cause itching and nausea.
In 1876, the pueraria lobata was introduced to North America to prevent soil erosion in the southeastern United States. The plant spread more rapidly than expected, though. To compound the problem, seeds might not germinate for years, causing surprise regrowth after the plant is thought to be eradicated.
In addition to its medical uses, this plant also is used as animal feed. Grazing animals enjoy it, and it takes about three to four years of constant grazing to overgraze a stand. The plant is difficult to store, however, because it tends to stay wet and does not bale well.