Kudzu root (Gegen in Chinese) is the dried root of Pueraria lobata (Willd.) Ohwi, a semi-woody, perennial and leguminous vine native to South East Asia. It is often used interchangeably in traditional Chinese medicine with thomson kudzu root (Fengen in Chinese), the dried root of P. thomsonii, although the Chinese Pharmacopoeia has separated them into two monographs since the 2005 edition. For more than 2000 years, kudzu root has been used as a herbal medicine for the treatment of fever, acute dysentery, diarrhoea, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Both English and Chinese literatures on the traditional applications, phytochemistry, pharmacological activities, toxicology, quality control and potential interactions with conventional drugs of both species have been included in the present review. Over seventy phytochemicals have been identified in kudzu root, with isoflavonoids and triterpenoids as the major constituents. Isoflavonoids, in particular puerarin, have been used in most of the pharmacological studies. Animal and cellular studies have provided support for the traditional uses of kudzu root on cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and endocrine systems, including diabetes and its complications. Further studies to define the active phytochemical compositions, quality standards and clinical efficacy are warranted. Strong interdisciplinary collaboration to bridge the gap between traditional medicine and modern biomedical medicine is therefore needed for the development of kudzu root as an effective medicine for the management of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
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