To be honest, I’m one of the world’s biggest admirers of the plant Japanese Knotweed. This plant has helped define and shape who I am and has provided me strength and healing, as well as the motivation to write a book, while it continues to provide me a source of income. We are now seeing it flourish, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, and the plant is gaining a further bad reputation for spreading throughout the flooded area, though I see it as a gift. From a human-centered perspective it is a devastation to have this plant around, though I see it as Nature doing what Nature does. And Nature doesn’t always comply with the way we wish it to be.
As a health care provider over the years, I have successfully used this plant as medicine for hundreds of individuals suffering with Lyme disease, including myself. It has powerful antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects, especially for the central nervous system. And we have also seen the plant spread in nearly the same trajectory and at the same rate as Lyme disease has spread throughout the Northeast, providing the remedy along the way.
To me, it is not a coincidence this plant is flourishing, especially with us hearing of increased incidence of Lyme disease in Vermont. The roots of Japanese Knotweed contain resveratrol, the powerful compound touted in red wine which gives you the liberty to drink as much as you like, and in fact this plant possesses higher concentrations of resveratrol than any other plant in the world. And many pharmaceutical and supplement companies make use of this plant to extract this compound, and it provides hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly revenues for them.
Ecologically speaking, Knotweed is a pioneer species, spreading over disturbed lands to help stabilize the soil and create biomass to enrich the land. It also tolerates some of the most polluted water and soil, and even in some cases can sequester the toxins and heavy metals and transmute them into less harmful chemicals, and therefore clean the ecosystem of the pollutants. There is a good reason Knotweed moved in with the floods, and as we all know, those waters carried some nasty, toxic things in it, and now a plant is there to help remediate the soil. I also observed that it assisted in stabilizing some river banks while the floodwaters tore away at other, more “native” areas.
And with this plant’s widespread presence and great growing ability, I also see the potential for using Japanese Knotweed as a biofuel source. It can grow inches a day and reaches 8-12 feet tall, and one can get at least two harvests a year. The stalk becomes woody when dry and it is growing in convenient and accessible roadside areas and fields.
Oh, and by the way, we can eat the plant as well, and it’s very tasty. Now is the time to harvest the spring growth up to a foot or so, and cook it up sweet or savory like rhubarb or asparagus. Another thing is bees make wonderful honey with the flowers as well. Of course, it is important to not harvest the Knotweed for consumption in polluted areas.
So to me, I see this circumstance of Knotweed flourishing as a way to provide a potent remedy for a devastating disease that is spreading like a weed throughout our area. I feel we should recognize the plant not as a menace to be fought, but as a valuable resource to make use of. Knotweed is a reflection of the destructed and polluted landscape we’re living in and is there to help clean and rebuild the soils and waterways. Using toxic chemicals to try to remove this plant, which is being widely proposed, will be a waste of time, energy, and taxpayers’ money, and will add more pollution in our soil and waterways. My belief is that Nature does not make mistakes, and more often than not, it is the human that does.
Timothy Scott, author of “Invasive Plant Medicine,” is a gardener, acupuncturist, and herbalist, who lives in Dummerston.
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