You can eat wild grape leaves, which grow throughout the world. Both the leaves and fruit are perfectly edible by humans. They thrive in a variety of climates, forming huge spreading plants that envelop large areas. The leaves are often used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking.
What You'll Learn Today
- How To Identify Wild Grapes?
- Are Grape Leaves Poisonous?
- Can You Use Wild Grape Leaves For Cooking?
- Are All Grape Leaves Safe To Eat?
- What Do Grape Leaves Taste Like?
- What Are The Health Benefits Of Wild Grape Leaves?
How To Identify Wild Grapes?
Identifying wild grapes is easy once you know what to look for. If you’ve ever seen a cultivated grapevine, then you’ll be pleased to discover that the leaves are identical. The plant itself is more sprawling, and the grapes are tiny but still grow in the same typical clusters.
Wild grapevines can reach heights of 30 feet or more, quickly enveloping vast areas. They cover shrubs and grow up trees by wrapping their thick, almost rope-like vines around them.
The best places to look for grapevines are in moist locations such as alongside streams and riverbanks. They also grow in hedgerows, forests, and even meadows. You may even find one growing along your fence.
Avoid any you discover on roadsides, as they will have collected pollutants from passing traffic.
Wild grape leaves come in a range of sizes, depending upon the species of grape and its maturity. When harvesting, you should look for ones that are approximately the size of your hand.
They are roughly heart-shaped with a pointed tip at the bottom and two pointed tips on either side. Some leaves have two smaller tips above these. Each lobe has a vein running through the leaf from where the stem attaches to the point of each tip.
The younger the leaf, the more rounded its appearance will be.
The leaves are toothed (serrated) along their edge, are a vivid green color that turns darker as they age. They grow individually from short stems.
The stems of each leaf are around 3 inches in length and attach to a larger main stem that goes back to the vine. They often have a pink or red hue or may be pale green.
Curling tendrils grow from the vine below each leaf. They wrap themselves around anything within their reach to support the vine.
Another good way to identify a wild grapevine is to look for clusters of tiny developing grapes. The clusters will be a mass of pale green baby grapes.
When to Collect
Depending on the species, the best times to collect grape leaves will vary slightly. Generally, late spring and early summer is the best time, so May to June. If the plant is by a fresh source of water, new leaves will continue growing right through the summer.
If there is a drought, then the leaves will be tougher. Try to find some that are close to a water source, as they will be far more pleasant to eat.
Selection of Leaves
Choose leaves that are about the size of your hand, around 5 or 6 inches across. You can pinch them off where their short leaf stem joins the main stem. This will help them fresher for longer. It won’t take much time to collect a large bag full.
Whenever you’re gathering wild plants, remember not to get too greedy and over-pick them. Leave some for others to enjoy and so that you won’t ultimately harm the plant.
When picking wild grape leaves, be careful not to denude the whole line of leaves. Pick every other one. Or every third one.
Storage of Fresh Leaves
You can place your fresh-picked leaves into a paper bag or reusable container. Give them a wash and drain well when you get home, then place in a fresh container to store in the fridge.
Are Grape Leaves Poisonous?
Wild grape leaves are not poisonous, but you should avoid any that may have been sprayed with chemicals such as herbicides or those that grow in industrial areas or by roadways as they may become polluted.
Be aware that if you’re taking prescription medications, particularly those for thinning blood, are pregnant or breastfeeding, you are better not eating grape leaves.
When you first go foraging for wild grapes, always take a good wild plant identification guidebook with you. These should contain clear, color pictures, not only of the plant you are looking for but any that can be mistaken for it as a comparison.
There are a few plants that can sometimes be mistaken for wild grapes and are toxic. These include Virginia Creeper, Canadian Moonseed, Porcelain Berry, and Poison Ivy.
Poison oak often grows among grapevines, so be careful when you are harvesting your leaves.
Racoon Grapes (Ampelopsis cordata), which are part of the grape family (Vitaceae), look a lot like wild grape leaves, but they are not edible.
In this video, you can see how to identify wild grape leaves and which look-alikes need to be avoided:
Can You Use Wild Grape Leaves For Cooking?
In many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, grape leaves are eaten stuffed with a variety of tasty fillings.
- Salad – The young leaves, when gathered in spring, can be eaten raw in a salad or steamed. They have a lovely citrus flavor. As the leaves mature, they become too tough to eat raw and are used in fermentation or canned.
- Pickles – Pickled leaves will keep for a long time and are good when stuffed with a variety of fillings such as rice, olives, minced meat, nuts, tomatoes, lemon juice, mint, and other herbs and spices.
- Burrito – You can use them as you would a burrito to make convenient finger food.
- Greek Food – Grape leaves are popular in Greece and make excellent appetizers such as Dolmas and Dolmades.
- Bread Replacement – Rather than using bread, pickled vine leaves are also a good way to enjoy eating pate or hummus.
- Steamed – If you’re not so fond of pickled things, then you can simply steam or blanch the leaves to use them as wraps, although unless very young, they can be a bit chewy when prepared in this way.
- Fermented – Fermentation is another way to enjoy your wild grape leaves. This improves their texture and makes them tender. You can buy canned, pickled, or fermented grape leaves, but the industrial methods used often destroy most of the leaves’ nutritional value. By doing it yourself, you can retain the beneficial enzymes and microflora. One way to do this is lacto-fermentation, which leaves them soft, flexible, and tangy but still raw.
- Chips – To enjoy the leaves unstuffed, you might like to make chips out of them. This can be done quickly in a dehydrator, and they are prepared in much the same way as kale chips.
- Infusions – Infusions are another great way to enjoy their flavor and benefits. Simply dry the leaves and use them in place of tea. Red grapevine leaves are often too tough to eat, but they make great infusions mixed with other ingredients such as nettle or red raspberry leaves.
- Storage – To store your leaves for a longer time, fresh ones can be frozen. Once thawed, simply chop and steam them, then add to dishes as you would with ingredients such as spinach.
- Firming Tannins – Even if you don’t particularly like vine leaves to eat, they can be beneficial if you want to lacto-ferment other vegetables such as cucumbers or green beans. This is because they contain tannins. By adding a leaf or two when you’re fermenting then the vegetables will retain a lovely crunchy texture rather than becoming soft.
- Lacto-fermentation – Lacto-fermentation is a process by which the sugar and starch are converted by beneficial bacteria into lactic acid. This preserves the grape leaves, as well as increasing the amount of gut-friendly microflora, which is great for your health.
It is an easy process and requires only a few simple steps and ingredients:
- A bunch of fresh wild grape leaves – enough to fill a mason jar
- 2 tablespoons of sea salt
- 1-quart of filtered water
- Pickling spices to taste (optional)
- ½ teaspoon probiotic powder or culture starter (optional)
- Juice of one lemon (optional)
- Clean your vine leaves carefully, removing any dirt by giving them a thorough washing.
- Place the leaves in a sterilized mason jar. To do this, simply place your empty jar into a pan of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove carefully and allow to air dry.
- Make a brine by combining the salt, water, pickling spices, starter, and lemon juice.
- Place the leaves into the clean jar and cover them with a saltwater brine solution.
- Ensure the grape leaves are pushed well down below the surface of the brine solution and fill the brine to the very top of the jar. Keep on a shelf for 12 days somewhere dark at room temperature.
- Then refrigerate for two weeks or more. The good lactic acid bacteria will grow and prevent any harmful pathogenic bacteria or mold from growing.
The leaves can be taken out of the jar as desired and eaten for several months. If there are any signs of mold or unpleasant odors present when you open the jar, dispose of the contents and start again.
Are All Grape Leaves Safe To Eat?
Grape leaves are safe to eat provided they have been properly stored or processed, are not contaminated with pollutants, and you don’t have an allergy to them.
In America and Canada, grape species include the:
- Vitis californica
- Vitis arizonica
- Vitis aestivalis
- Vitis cinerea
- Vitis girdiana
- Vitis riparia
Red grapevine leaves are also edible but are no good fresh or pickled. They are good for drying and making into teas or tinctures to benefit from their health-giving properties.
Use a good guidebook to help you correctly identify them.
What Do Grape Leaves Taste Like?
You may be surprised to discover that grape leaves taste nothing like grapes. When eaten fresh, they do have a tangy citrus-type flavor that goes well with fish or other recipes where citrus fruits are used.
Fermented grape leaves have a salty, tangy pickled flavor that goes well with red meats.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Wild Grape Leaves?
Grape leaves are packed full of valuable nutrients that can be beneficial in a number of ways. Low in calories but high in fiber, they pack ten times more antioxidants than grape juice. They also contain high levels of vitamin A and K.
Studies have shown that most of the beneficial antioxidant polyphenols are found in the leaves, stems, seeds, and skins of grapes, while their juicy middles contain less.
Red grape leaves improve blood circulation, helping people suffering from chronic venous insufficiency.
Resveratrol, another antioxidant, can be found in wild grape leaves. It has antimicrobial and antioxidative properties, which in the plant, prevent fungal pathogens. For people, Resveratrol has an anti-inflammatory effect and is beneficial for skin inflammation and arthritis.
Its antifungal and antibacterial properties make it good for fighting urinary and digestive tract problems. It may also be effective at protecting the body against diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and some cancers.
Just like other fresh green leafy vegetables, grape leaves contain omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in beneficial proportions for good health.
Medicines containing grape leaves are used for various different complaints. To treat inflammation, stop bleeding, and for diarrhea.
Native Americans make tea from the leaves to treat a variety of different complaints, including headaches, fever, rheumatism, sore breasts, stomach ache, and even hepatitis.
Wild grape leaves may not be first on your list when you think about going foraging for some wild eats. Somehow, eating leaves can seem a bit weird. However, once you’ve got past that, you’ll discover that they can actually be pretty tasty, especially when teamed up with complimentary flavors.
Young, fresh leaves added to a salad go well with white fish and chicken, while fermented leaves are better with red meats and rice.
Why not have a go at making some healthy Greek foods that include grape leaves such as Dolmas or Dolmades?
Grape leaves are beneficial, tasty, and nutritious; plus when you forage for them, they’re free!
Don’t forget that some poisonous plants can look a lot like grape leaves, so make sure you use a high-quality reference guide to keep you safe.
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