Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) is an increasingly prolific and invasive plant species that has spread across much of the US including upstate New York and the Adirondacks. It is considered a noxious weed in New York State and eradication programs have been enacted in the Adirondacks with herbicides being one of the main weapons of mass destruction. The plant resembles bamboo, but is actually in the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae) and is native in South Central Asia and Japan. Japanese knotweed spreads aggressively through its rhizome with even small pieces growing into plants. It chooses to grow along the edges of fields, waterways, and roads with a particular fondness for disturbed areas where there was once toxic waste of sorts. It is a perennial and grows up to 6ft. high with broadly ovate leaves and white, cascading flowers and hollow stems. This is the bad news...
The good news is that Japanese Knotweed is a highly medicinal and edible plant that is currently being used as treatment for Lyme disease. We can also use as much as we want of this plant being that it is so highly invasive, allowing us to reduce our use of native or non-invasive plants.The young shoots are a food source that can be steamed and boiled like asparagus. The root/rhizome is gathered in the Spring or Fall and contains a variety of medicinal constituents used traditionally to treat everything from eczema to bronchitis and stalled labor. One of the main compounds of Japanese Knotweed is resveratrol, also found in red grape skins (red wine) among many other plants, and, according to herbalist David Hoffmann, can "modulate multiple molecular pathways thought to be associated with the development and progression of cardiovascular disease and cancer...." Resveratrol is considered antioxidant, antimutagenic and inhibits platelet aggregation. It is particularly appropriate in the treatment of Lyme arthritis as, with Lyme being a spirochete, the arthritis is incited by the production of specific proteins that stimulate pathways that do not respond to treatment by other herbal anti-inflammatories.
The whole plant contains several other constituents and, when taken to treat Lyme disease and it's symptoms, has proven to be very effective in bringing relief to many people suffering from the disease and its coinfections. Japanese Knotweed tastes bitter and sour with energetics being cold and dry. It is considered stimulating and astringent. Japanese Knotweed has also, according to herbalist Stephen Buhner, been proliferating across bioregions immediately preceding the emergence of Lyme disease. I have witnessed this occurrence in the area of central New York State where I live. I heard Stephen speak at a conference about this about 5 years ago and, at the time, I had minimal knowledge or experience with Lyme disease and its treatment. I had also never seen a Japanese knotweed plant. I began to notice them in my locality about 4 years ago and, even then, it was only sparsely on the edges of roads and in vacant lots where houses or small industries used to exist. It has spread dramatically in the last three years simultaneously with the abundant increase in deer ticks . The ticks have been slowly increasing as the winters have been slowly getting warmer.
The herb has a long list of medicinal uses especially as a broad-spectrum antibacterial and has been found effective against spirochetes including Borrelia burdorferi(Lyme). It is an antiviral, immunomodulator, immunostimulant, laxative, diuretic, expectorant, antitussive and a capillary stimulant. The capillary stimulant action is of specific importance in Lyme treatment as it increases the blood flow to areas where the Lyme spirochete likes to live such as the eyes, skin, heart and joints. This then helps to carry the medicinal constituents of any treatments to those places. This makes it a great addition to any Lyme treatment formula/protocol. It should not be taken in pregnancy except in small doses and should not be used with other blood thinners.
I have been taking Japanese Knotweed this summer in a preventative formula for myself. I contracted Lyme disease last year and have, fortunately, been symptom free and feeling healed since about December. Because there is not any way to accurately test to see if I still have it, as Lyme can encyst or hide itself, I can only continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle and try to avoid getting run down where my immune system could be compromised. I also, naturally, try to avoid getting another tick bite because it is a disease that can be contracted repeatedly.
Invasive plants are undoubtedly a challenge to our ecosystems and can create a great deal of damage to native plant populations as some are quite imperialistic. They can also be seen for the gifts they offer that are seemingly appropriate to some of our new and emerging illnesses. For more information on the positive side of invasive species there is a book soon to be available called Invasive Plant Medicine The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives by Timothy Lee Scott. I personally can't wait to read it!! It is expected to be out sometime in August and you can pre-order at http://invasiveplantmedicine.com/
Sources for this article:
Healing Lyme by Stephen Buhner
Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann
Jade Remedies by Peter Holmes
Materia Medica: Japanese Knotweed by Chris Marano in the Journal of the Northeast Herbal Association Winter/Spring 2010