In the East, kuzu, a member of the legume family, has enjoyed an excellent reputation and has been part of the cuisine of China and Japan for more than two thousand years. The starch that makes kuzu an outstanding jelling and thickening agent in cooking is partly responsible for its medicinal action. Some of kuzu's complex starch molecules enter the intestines and relieve the discomfort caused by overacidity, bacterial infection, and - in the case of diarrhea - excess water. In many cases of abdominal aching and intestinal irritation, a bowl of kuzu gruel or pudding brings quick relief. particularly for children who often do not like the taste of over-the-counter stomach medications.
According to Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Traditional Medicine and Preventive Health Care in Portland, Oregon, kuzu also contains a very high concentration of flavonoids, which are responsible for its strong medicinal effect on the digestive and circulatory systems. Flavonoids, which occur naturally in kuzu and other plants, are fairly well known as antioxidants. However, they also have the ability to inhibit the contraction of smooth muscle tissue, thereby increasing blood flow and relieving cramping in the intestines.
The medicinal effects of kuzu's flavonoids were proven during numerous clinical studies in China in the 1970s. The results, published in several important Chinese medical journals, showed that crude kuzu root preparations or its extracted flavonoids, given as injections or taken orally, reduced high blood pressure, relieved chronic migraine headaches, and eased aches in the shoulders and neck. In China, kuzu flavonoids have successfully treated sudden deafness, which can be caused by restricted circulation. Flavonoids also have been shown to lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of the formulation of blood clots, and protect against heart disease.
Recently, research on kuzu has focused on its use as a treatment for an entirely different type of problem: alcohol abuse. Fascinated by reports of Chinese physicians using kuzu to treat chronic alcoholism, Harvard medical researcher Wing-Ming Keung traveled to China to collect clinical information. During his visit, Keung interviewed thirteen traditional and modern physicians and compiled three hundred case histories. "In all cases," said Keung, "the medication (a tea made from kudzu root and other herbs) was considered effective in both controlling and suppressing appetite for alcohol and improving the function of alcohol-affected vital organs. No toxic side effects were reported by the Chinese physicians."
When Keung returned to Harvard, he conducted his own research, which confirmed what he had learned in China: that kuzu, for reasons still not understood, can curb the desire for alcohol as well as its ravages on the body.
Obviously, research on the medicinal value of kuzu will continue, both in the United States and in Asia, although kuzu's capabilities are far more extensively studied and documented in the East than they are in this country. For example, key Chinese medical texts describe the properties and uses of tablets made from kuzu root extract for a wide range of both minor and serious illnesses.
Although kuzu may not be well known to Western herbalists, it is commonly prescribed by American acupuncturists trained in Oriental herbology, to be used in conjunction with acupuncture treatments. Acupuncturist Mary Cissy Majebe, O.M.D., director of the Chinese Acupuncture and Herbology Clinic in Asheville, North Carolina, uses teas made from kuzu root and complementary herbs for specific conditions requiring the elimination of accumulated heat (as with head colds, influenza, and muscle stiffness) with "excellent results." However, she stresses that similar symptoms do not always indicate the same underlying cause of illness. If you have a condition that you think would benefit from kuzu or another herbal remedy, talk with a trained healthcare professional.