Riverbank Grape: Utilizing A Wild Vine For Nutrition And Energy Efficiency

Categories: Green


(Vitis riparia-River Bank Grape, an under utilized vine with great potential) Winter of 2014-2015 I was doing a lot nutrition research on crops that could be used in sustainable agriculture applications. I found that when it comes to calories (Fat, Protein, Carbs-Sugar/Starch/Fiber) seeds are the most dense in nutrition, as well when it comes to minerals and much of the Vitamin B Complex. Per 100 grams, nuts like Hazelnuts, Walnuts, and Pecans deliver 600-700 calories. Peanuts, Acorns, and Sunflower seeds come in around 500 calories per 100 grams, Legumes (Beans) and Grains-around 250-350 calories per 100 grams. Meat-130-180 calories per 100 grams. Root Crops like Potatoes and Parsnips-70-85 calories per 100 grams. And finally fruit and vegetables provide anywhere from 10-90 calories per 100 grams. Looking at nutrition facts, there are very few fruit worth growing if looking for nutrients, as they are water heavy, and do not sequester significant amounts of vitamins and minerals when compared to other plant products such as roots, leaves, and seeds. Leaves of dark greens such as Grape Leaves, Kale, Spinach, and Amaranth sequester significant amounts of minerals and vitamins without having to eat pounds of them each day. 

Grape Leaf/Seed Nutrition

When comparing Grape Leaf nutritionto all other vegetable crops, Grape Leaves stood out for not only providing the highest amount of calories per 100 grams (93 calories including 6g of Protein), and the most Calcium (36% of Daily Value) and top 3 in Iron (15% of Daily Value) and Magnesium (24% of Daily Value). The 93 calories per 100 grams is even more impressive for a leaf when you consider that Potatoes and Parsnips which are Root Crops weigh in the 80's as far calories per 100 grams. 

After looking through all of the crops I could grow, things that sequester Calcium, Iron, and Magnesium are hard to come by, these leaves just happen to be one of the highest in all 3 categories. So this spring, summer, and fall I set off on a quest to taste all of the local wild grape vine leaves for palatability as I'd prefer to eat them raw, rather than to cook bitter tannins out of them which would destroy and leach out much of the vitamins and minerals. You may wonder, why wild grape vines? I chose to seek out wild locally indigenous Grape Vines because I was also after the seeds which provide a plethora of health benefits as well and wild vines will have the largest most numerous seeds in the grapes compared to cultivated grapes that have been breed to be seedless or have small seeds.

Also, wild vines are going to be the most vigorously branching plants having directly adapted relationships with local soil characteristics and soil biota creating a very productive leaf and seed crop. Searching through and tasting vine after vine, they delivered punishing aftertastes of astringency and bitterness, my tongue was pleading for me to stop the quest. While exploring an alkaline floodplain of the Little Miami River I finally came across Vitis riparia (Riverbank Grape AKA Frost Grape).


This leaf was less hairy than the other grape vines, and the taste had no bitterness, but rather a lemon flavor without the "bite" of a lemon. The grapes taste similar, lemon-acidic taste with no bitterness, very palatable before frost, but literature states that after the grapes are frosted in late fall, they turn sweeter. Lastly, the seed of Riverbank Grape has no distinct taste which is a great thing as many seeds of wild plants are loaded with tannins to prevent predation. Since that first sighting, I've also found the same species growing in multiple places in acidic well-drained uplands at high elevations showing it's ability to not be restricted to alkaline floodplains.

( The fading leaves after a long summer are giving way to lemon-sweet flavored grapes)


The implications are huge of being able to utilize the seeds (the most nutrient + calorie dense food) as well as the leaves of this plant which are more calorie dense than potatoes per 100 grams, and sequester vitally important minerals (Calcium, Iron, Magnesium) at some of the highest amounts available. The fact that it is also a perennial woody vine creates opportunities to use the plant vertically in spaces that are typically not usable for crops.

Energy Efficiency 

Vines that are potentially damaging to the walls and roofs of houses due to their clinging habit include Virginia Creeper, Boston Ivy, and English Ivy all are tolerated to different extents by some homeowners for different reasons, but Grape Vines climb with tendrils so they can't damage tiles or grow under sidings of buildings. Infact they need supports to climb on like wires or arbors, something they can wind a tendril around as opposed to climbing straight up surfaces like the aforementioned vines.


Grape vines can grow over 15ft in 1 year, so if applied correctly, these vines can be trained on to 1 and 2 story houses for quick cooling as opposed to waiting 50 years for an Oak, Hickory, or Maple to shade your home for energy efficiency. I'll be collaborating with Jake Thompson of Barefoot Design (like them on Facebook) to mastermind-design and build supports on my one story home for River Bank grape to cover the unused +2,000 square feet of my roof that is directly open to summer heat from the southern and western exposures.

For centuries grape vines have been used to create cool summer environments in the outdoor rooms supported by different structures (See Picture above), it is time to get creative and figure out how to support a controlled growth feasible for covering homes with. Look forward to a future blog post about how our project at my home is progressing. Imagine that solar heat oppression being turned into photosynthesis, cooling, pollinator supporting (from flowers), edible leaf/seed/fruit producing fun!

Pole-Form Cultivation

Thinking about how could I harvest enough seeds for it to compare with grain, legume, pseudo-grain, and nut production as well as sustainable harvest leaves throughout the season; I had to admire the way many vines adapted to our tendency to erect poles in our environments. To the right is a picture of Trumpet Vine that grew up a utility pole, and likely due to its sheer beauty, was allowed to live by the often violent hand of land management. Realistically speaking though, I'm not suggesting growing Riverbank Grape up utility poles as that would make harvesting the leaves and grapes unnecessary stressful. But if we could erect similar wooden pole structures of 20-30 ft. in a permaculture/sustainable agriculture/polyculture setting or even someone's residential backyard, one could easily train this Grape Vine to claim the pole as its own. It would be best to plant 2 per pole perhaps for cross pollination and maximum grape/seed production if the poles were going to be kept a fair distance away from each other. Keeping the poles spaced out by at least 6 or 7' would all them to never touch and bind with each other and other adjacent structures, in that case 1 plant per pole would likely suffice. A pole format would also lend itself to foraging large amounts of leaves with ladders whenever need be starting from the bottom going up, and fruit/seed harvest would also be easy as the grapes would be hanging directly from the poles. If any one has any other ideas on how to get this vine into permaculture/sustainable agriculture/residential settings please leave them in comment section. 

In Closing

I myself, am stoked on finding more Riverbank Growing locally in the Cincinnati Metropolitan. I've collected bundles of grapes for their seeds to propagate plenty for 2016 to grow on my house, and give to others interested in utilizing this wild-superfood. It'll likely because a feature of my edibles section in 2016 Native Plant Nursery being kick off under my business name Pioneer Landscapes LLC. See my website here for updates on the 2016 opening of the Native Nursery and many other ecologically minded landscape services that we have available including reforestation, prairie restoration/creation, and native plant based landscaping including fun edibles.  Lastly; if you cook the tannins out of all grape vine leafs and make different foods like Greek Dolma out of them, but you'll leach away many of those vitally important minerals, and destroy may vitamins in that heat intensive process. This is why Vitis riparia (Riverbank Grape) is so important. With leaves that have no bitterness, rather a smooth lemon flavor, and adaptability to grow well in a wide amount of environments while also bear seeds that are non-astringent or bitter, this wild food is asking in every way to be utilized in its raw form.  Also if you haven't caught wind of Pioneer Landscapes Civic Garden Class coming up on October 24th, Saturday 10-Noon, then please check out the details here: http://www.pioneersprouts.com/new-events-1/2015/10/24/native-tree-identification-civic-garden-center-class  We'll start at Civic Garden Center for a short 35 minute lecture of Tree/Soil relationships as it relates to Glacial, River, and Wind history locally, and then take a 15 minute drive to California Woods to spend the last hour of the class reinforcing the lecture in the field while learning how to I.D. native trees on the site in their niche.  Enjoy this video by wild forager who makes high quality foraging videos posted on his youtube channel. He's foraging Vitis riparia as it expresses itself in the northeast. 

via NatureInHumanity

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