This ‘love’ can be suffocating, but it’s edible and incredible
G3 Group explores the many uses of chain of love, one of the most pervasive invasive plant species on Guam
By Jasmine Stole Weiss
Guam Green Growth members have found ways to turn one of the island’s most pervasive invasive species from a nuisance into a new commodity, using all parts of the chain of love vine in cooking, skincare products and apparel.
They’ve made a string of things from the chain of love vines including tea, pesto, furikake seasoning, bath bombs, and used its root for clothing dye.
The experiments with the invasive vine came after a few successful, albeit back-breaking, days of harvesting the plant, which is also known as “kadena de amor.” In mid-September, Guam Green Growth members, the G3 Conservation Corps and the Guam Department of Agriculture tackled a part of a plot in Yona.
“When we drove away, we felt successful, but when we got in the car, we realized it’s everywhere,” said Myracle Mugol, circular economy coordinator for Guam Green Growth.
The area that the team cleared was once home to a coconut tree plantation reportedly snuffed out by the chain of love, Mugol said. They realized the work of about 20 people wasn’t going to be enough for a plant that’s had a 100-year head start to take root and take over.
Chain of love, defined by its heart-shaped leaves and pink flower clusters, moves fast and spreads quickly, smothering whatever tree or brush it climbs. Its blossoms are dainty and its vines are ruthless, swarming its host tree so that it blocks the much-needed sun from its host. As it moves on to overwhelm other nearby native flora, the unfortunate host gets weaker and weaker. As far as plants go, chain of love is definitely a looker but it is also quite the killer.
Its extensive vine network originates from a tenacious tuber that if left unearthed will produce more climbing soldiers, ready and eager to keep the chain going.
“You have to kill it from the root and take it out. It’s called a tuber,” Mugol said. “It’s so hard to get out that you have to dig.”
The group knew it was up against a formidable opponent. The chain of love isn’t new to Guam. It’s been on the island since the early 1900s and knows its way around, having sprouted and scattered to every village. It’s been identified as one of four of the most invasive vines on Guam.
“Everywhere you go on Guam, it’s beautiful. It’s really nice to see,” Mugol said. “We were like, how can we push our community to harvest this to stop it? That’s where circular economy came in.”
Circular economy is a movement away from a linear economy of taking a natural resource, making something out of it, using that thing and disposing of it, Mugol said. A circular economy works to reduce waste by reusing, repairing or recycling a resource, a product and material in different ways, aiming to continue using resources for as long as possible.
The group researched the chain of love and found other countries plagued by the plant were using its leaves, its flowers and its roots for other things. “This whole plant is 100 percent edible,” Mugol said.
They learned the leaves help with diabetes, the flowers help with high blood pressure.
The G3 group challenged themselves to find other uses and came back with recipes galore. One person used the leaves in a pesto recipe. Another member dehydrated leaves to incorporate into furikake seasoning and also cooked up a candied chain of love leaf. Users reported smoother skin after using chain of love-infused bath bombs, Mugol said.
Mugol herself used a blend of chain of love, lemongrass, calamansi and pomegranate tea.
One conservation corps member took on the bitter-tasting tuber and used it to dye clothing. But they’re also considering making the tuber into flour.
Armed with their recipes and an endless supply chain of kadena de amor, Mugol said the members plan to work with food science experts across the University of Guam campus at the College of Natural & Applied Sciences to further examine the possibilities of this pesky plant.