Virginia Creeper – Parthenocissus Quinquefolia: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the American Ivy

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In Chippewa, manido’bima’kwud, woodbine AKA American ivy AKA Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a grape relation you can find around Ontario. Locally, it’s found mostly on roadsides and along abandoned railroad tracks. I’ve also found this vine in mixed woods. It’s gorgeously ornamental in Autumn, so you’re likely to find it in town too.

In Canada, it’s only native to Ontario.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Edible Uses of Virginia Creeper

Woohoo, another raging debate. If you look up whether or not Virginia creeper is edible you’ll find a range from yes to absolutely not.

There is an edible part or two of this woody vine. Mainly the cambium layer. You take the thicker sections of the stem, peel them until you get a soft layer of inner bark. This bark can be boiled for about an hour and used as a starchy vegetable. Perhaps in a stew.

The shoots can be eaten early in the year and are best cooked as well. Cooking makes said woody parts palatable.

Most parts of this plant are emetic or purgative. Avoid those dark blue berries and the leaves. They aren’t tasty like their wild grape cousin. I wouldn’t listen to the Internet telling you to eat them. Yuck!

Medicinal Uses of Virginia Creeper

 Virginia Creeper is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Alterative, Astringent, Expectorant, Emetic, Mucilage. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage is the bark from the vine and twigs, gathered in the fall after the berries ripen, used in a decoction for colds or persistent coughs.

The leaves can be used as a poison ivy or skin remedy at any time.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Alternative Uses of American Ivy

The leaves can be used to make a black dye.

Growing Parthenocissus Quinquefolia

My favourite native vine! I love the rich red colour of the leaves in autumn. It’s easy to root and can be propagated by stem cuttings taken in the spring. You only have to mind what it will vine around, and whether you’d rather install a trellis or something to support it. It’s super easy to grow, sun or shade, dry or moist. The birds will love the dark blue berries!


At least one source said it’s an emmenagogue, so best to skip eating this wood if pregnant or trying to conceive.

The berries and leaves are purgative and can cause irritation in the mouth and throat.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

A Modern Herbal (Volume 2, I-Z and Indexes)

100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

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