In Chippewa, jo’minaga’wunj is the word for vitis vulpina the wild “fox grape”. In Ontario, you’ll find both wild grapes like riverbank grape and abandoned stretches of old cultivated vines. And they are all edible and medicinal.
Wild grapevines (vitis SPP.) like riverbank grape (vitis riparia) are strangely absent from the plant index in Haliburton Flora. Their look-a-like Virginia creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia) is listed and I do see it far more often. You will want to make sure to not confuse the two! Moonseed (menispermum canadense) is another look-a-like you could find in Ontario and it’s poisonous whereas the Virginia creeper is only mildly toxic.
Edible Uses of Wild Grapevines
All grapes are edible. In the case of our riverbank grape, it’s best after a frost like many of our wild fruits. They won’t “ripen” after being picked like some fruits. You can swallow and crunch the seeds, or just spit them out.
Snap off clusters and keep in a cool spot for up to a week. Frozen whole grapes are one of my favorite summer treats too.
You can use a juicer to juice the fruit. The fresh juice can cause some throat or skin irritation, and if you get it on your skin it helps to rinse it off. This happens because of the “tartrate” in the juice. As you let the juice sit, this grey sludge will settle to the bottom after a couple of days and you can pour the juice off of it. Always purify it before using it. You can dilute the juice with apple juice, water, or another fruit juice for a beverage. The same process of removing the tartrate is needed for jelly. You’ll need to add pectin and sugar.
There’s also wine, mead, etc. It’s helpful to ID what grape you are working with and to follow a recipe for that particular type of grape.
Another usage is pie filling. My mother grew concord grapes, which were derived from the wild riverbank grape. You don’t hear about grape pie much but this tart and juicy dessert was a staple of my childhood and I look forward to having it again.
Oh, and of course there’s drying the fruit for raisins, if you don’t mind the wild seeds!
Young tendrils and vine tips are edible too. Some abandoned grape hedges you might find here will have leaves that are good for stuffing, but the wild riverbanks foliage is too astringent. Collect leaves, here and there so the vine doesn’t suffer, before the veins get too tough. The leaves can be blanched and frozen too. The leaves have another handy trick: for crisper pickles, a grape leaf added to pickles when pickling inhibits a softening enzyme. If certain the leaf is indeed a grape, you can chew the leaf in the wild to relieve thirst in a pinch.
Grapeseed oil or extract deserves a mention to. The oil can be a wonderful base ingredient in your herbal medicines! The vitamin E within it will help preserve the medicine.
Medicinal Uses of Wild Grapevines
Wild Grapevine is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Anti-inflammatory, Astringent, Demulcent and Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes the resveratrol in grapeseed extract or grape wine for cardiovascular health. It may also be antidiabetic. However, the top 3 causes of cancer are smoking, alcohol and asbestos. That alcohol is in the top three isn’t brought up often. So a glass of wine every night? Meh. Maybe a supplement form is better in this case.
The dried raisins are a lesser known mild expectorant and emollient to help ease a cough.
Alternative Uses of Grapevines
The winter vines make a pretty base for Christmas wreaths, even alone!
Countless insects love grapevines including many beetles, butterflies, flies, a sawfly, skippers, sucking insects, moths, thrips, and true bugs. Eight-spotted forester (alypia octomaculata) is one moth of note. Sphinxes and wood nymphs too! Oh, even a giant walking stick, although I’m not sure if we get them in Ontario! Anyone know? Strangely, there’s a lack of bird traffic, at least some of the time. Take in point these grape clusters just shriveling up somewhere in Ontario in the winter:
Like most vining plants, you have to be picky where you put grapes. The vines can overwhelm other plants in the vicinity. Our native riverbank grape is an enjoyable plant, and many orchard type species are good to growing zones much colder than ours in Central Ontario. Making it one of a handful of popular cultivated fruits we can actually grow here.
Make sure not to confuse grapes with the toxic Virgina creeper or poisonous moonseed look-a-likes.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
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. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
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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