Its clouds of white blossoms cover acres of ground, tumbling over the banks of streams and verges of roads. It’s possibly the world’s most invasive plant — nickname “Godzilla weed” — allegedly responding only to massive doses of glyphosate-based herbicides. It’s the dread Japanese knotweed, blooming right now all over the New England landscape.

A member of the buckwheat family, Fallopia japonica was introduced from Japan to Europe in the mid-19th century by Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, a German botanist and physician living in The Netherlands. In 1850, von Siebold sent a specimen of Japanese knotweed to Kew Gardens in London, and by 1854 knotweed had traveled as far as the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. It was imported to North America in the 19th century as a landscaping ornamental, prized for its masses of small, white flowers, its heart-shaped leaves, and its bamboo-like canes. The weed soon spread like wildfire, taking on a life of its own, independent of its human sponsors.

A common habitat for Japanese knot-weed is sunny, moist areas, including riverbanks, roadsides, lawns and gardens. The weed is often spread via landfill or by having loam trucked in. All it takes is one fragment of one root, hidden within a pile of fill or topsoil dumped onto an unsuspecting yard, and next thing you know, this menace is gaining a toehold. Before you know it, all other plants are crowded out by this highly successful competitor for landscaping space. From its riverside sites, bits break off during storms or flooding and travel downstream to root at will in its next landfall. The only good news is that, unlike invasives such as multiflora roses, Japanese knotweed tends not to invade forested areas, a small consolation to homeowners and gardeners who do battle with the weed on an ongoing basis.

Is there any control that’s effective against the menace that in its native habitat is often the first plant to colonize volcanic lava and ash fields, where its tolerance of sulphur dioxide enables it to survive where other plants would be unable to cope? In its country of origin, the knotweed is held in check by both pests and diseases, but Japanese knotweed was introduced into the West without any natural enemies. Importing some kind of biological control into its new environment might be possible, but the side effects and ramifications of introducing further alien species are highly complex. It brings to mind the old dilemma I learned of in the remote Seychelles Islands, off the coast of Kenya in the Indian Ocean. The fairy tern, a native bird of these islands, was under attack by rats, which had come ashore off of visiting ships, so barn owls were imported to control the rat population. However, the owls quickly acquired a taste for the delicate fairy terns, leading to a bounty paid for each barn owl caught and dispatched. So, a scenario following the introduction of a biological control for knotweed could be: import an insect to eat Japanese knotweed, then a wasp begins to eat the insect and becomes over-dominant, and the whole balance of the ecosystem changes. It’s not a simple matter.

So the gentle gardener tries smothering the weeds with tarps, cutting stalks to the ground and digging out the rhizomes. Covering knotweed with tarps in spring suppresses the weed’s growth at the beginning of the season. Prepare the area by cutting old weed canes down to the ground and removing any loose material. Weight down the tarps and as the new weed shoots emerge, pushing up your tarps, trample them down by walking over the tarps. Leave the tarps in place as long as you can. You can even build raised-bed gardens right on top of the tarps or weight them down with ornamental container plantings, covering any visible plastic with mulch.

Cutting knotweed back throughout the summer, so that its photosynthesis is never allowed to operate at high levels, will suppress, but not eradicate, the plants. Since the cuttings easily sprout new roots and take hold in the soil, pick up the cuttings and bag them afterward. Cutting is most effective if you also dig the rhizome-clumps. In mature knotweed stands rhizome-clumps are very woody and can easily reach widths of a foot or more. Dig up the rhizomes and also bag them for disposal. While even the tiniest root left in the ground will result in a new sprout, don’t be discouraged: this is a long-term battle.

We may not, in the end, wish to eradicate all Japanese knotweed. Remember all the headlines in the 1990s when the benefits of resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, were first studied? Drinking red wine was suddenly healthy, a possible cure for diabetes and dementia.

In the intervening years, a lack of progress in testing resveratrol’s impact on human health slowed growth in demand for the compound. But a new round of research is now exploring resveratrol’s effects on major age-related diseases in humans, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. In addition to being in red and purple grapes, blueberries, cranberries, mulberries, lingonberries, peanuts and pistachios, resveratrol is also abundant in the roots of Japanese knotweed. There are also many natural healers who swear by knotweed’s efficacy in treating the symptoms of Lyme disease.

Furthering knotweed’s cause, chefs who forage for the delicate morel and wild ramp have turned their gaze on the hollow green stems of knotweed, which taste a whole lot like rhubarb: Tart, crunchy and juicy, they can be eaten raw or cooked and can be either sweet or savory, depending on how they’re prepared — grilled, pickled, or sautéed in oil, substituted for rhubarb in a pie or made into a pickle. So if you’re battling knotweed in your garden, don’t poison it; eat it. If you’re a forager, feel free to gather as many pounds of knotweed as you’d like; unlike many wild edibles, there’s no risk of it being over-harvested.