Medicine or Invasive Species?
By Marie Lavendier
Japanese Knotweed, also known as Mexican bamboo (Polygonum cuspidatum, Fallopia japonica) is the bane of a Connecticut gardener’s existence. Shovel-shaped leaves and delicate white flowers, it grows along roadsides, in lawns and disturbed areas. It was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800’s as an ornamental plant and for erosion control. Fast growing with a Herculean root system that can extend 45--60 feet, it explores weaknesses in pipes and other structures, shades out and overcomes other flora and contains an allelopathic compound which inhibits the growth of other vegetation. This is one mighty plant! But you already know this.
Medicine and Food
I’m here to enlighten you to the other side of Japanese Knotweed. The nice side. The medicinal, edible, healing side which Western and Traditional Chinese herbalists have used to treat Lyme disease (and other ailments).
Erik Harris, a Qigong healer and herbalist in Connecticut contracted Lyme disease in 2016. First his dog got sick, so he concocted a formula with Japanese knotweed to heal him. Then Erik became ill and made another herbal tincture with Japanese Knotweed and a combination of other herbs for himself. His Lyme went into remission, and he is free of Lyme symptoms. It works on pets and humans. Erik went on to treat other people with Lyme with his tinctures. He also eats it, baking it in a pie with strawberries, sautés and pickles the plant. “It tastes like asparagus,” he tells me. Japanese Knotweed is good topically, also, and has been used to treat skin infections and burns in Traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
Lyme disease originated in Connecticut in 1975. How amazing that we have a remedy for this insidious ailment right at our doorsteps. Especially because right now, according to the New York Times, and CDC, we have an epidemic of Babesiosis, a disease caused by a malaria-like parasite, Babesia duncani, usually transmitted by a tick bite and often occurring with Lyme disease. The New York Times also printed an article on March 16, 2023, about a study by the Bay Area Lyme Foundation which found Japanese Knotweed was one of 5 herbs that “demonstrated inhibitory activity against the parasite Babesia duncani”.
There is a principle in herbalism that when a plant grows near you, it may be there to help you. I learned this in my studies with Susun Weed, a master herbalist in New York who has written several books. As of 2020, Connecticut was ranked 9th in the country with the most cases of Lyme according to the website Statista. Small wonder why we have so much of this plant around. Erik agrees. “It’s here to help us.” He advises to harvest it as much as possible.
Finding a Balance
“So what about its reputation as a treacherous invasive species, choking out other vegetation?” I ask him. Erik realizes just how strong and stubborn Japanese Knotweed is because he wildcrafts it—goes where it grows and gathers the root with multiple shovels and other tools. It takes him hours to hack off just a piece of the root because the root system is so large and interconnected. Then he tinctures the root for medicine, extracting the healing properties into a vegetable gylcerin base. He thinks people need to be “educated about what it can do for us. Japanese Knotweed is a food and a medicine.” Here’s his advice: Learn how to harvest it and use it and if you want to dispose of it, do it in natural ways that don’t harm the environment. Find a balance.
Don’t use poison (herbicides) which poisons the water table. Remove it before it seeds. Burn it. Do it more consciously. Erik informs me that other invasive species like Barberry and wild rose are used medicinally in Chinese herbal formulas, too. Stay tuned…
Other advice for removal: Cut it frequently before it flowers and keep cutting it close to the ground. This will weaken the plant. Don’t try to pull it up as it will break at the root level and develop new growth increasing its spread. Replanting the area with native, organic perennials will help to decrease regrowth.