I know, the photo to the right is not that of wild grapes. The wild ones are smaller. Lots smaller. The wild ones, however, pack as much, if not more, flavour punch in their tiny fruits as do the cultivated varieties.
Vitis riparia, the Riverbank Grape, is native to North America. There are varieties of Wild Grapes found throughout the world.The wild grape is used in hybridizing to create hardier, more disease resistant varieties. Some varieties are hardy to -70F. Wild Grape vines can climb over 60 feet and have been known to kill the tree they use for support. They are also a farmers foe, known to pull down fencing from their weight. In some areas the Wild Grape is considered a noxious weed.
As with the other wild versions they are a favourite of birds and wildlife. In fact, it is harder than you think to find a decent amount of ripened fruit because the wild creatures usually beat us to them. Long after the foliage has fallen and the temperatures have dropped, the grapes remain on the vines, resembling little raisins to help sustain wildlife throughout the winter.
The wild grape has many uses. First and foremost being jams and jellies. In the North the wild grape is a sour fruit, although cooler weather in the fall sweetens them some. Those growing in the Southern States, including Vitis rotundifolia, have a more appetizing flavour. There are literally dozens of species of wild grape.
I remember once when one of my Aunts came to visit from the big city. Mom decided to take her with us on a Wild Grape picking expedition. We didn't have to go far, a short walk from home and there were bushels to be had, just hanging from the vines, waiting for us. It took several days after the adventure to get the purple stains off of our hands. Mom made the most wonderful Grape jelly from them. Jams and wine can also be made from Wild Grapes, the flavour is tasty and unique.
The grapes are also used as a natural dye, producing a lovely violet/grey colour. Our purple hands can attest to this fact!! The leaves make a nice yellow coloured dye.
Wild grape vines are also used in weaving baskets. Check out Dave's Gardens new Basket Weaving forum for some ideas and a wealth of advice in this area. Beautiful wreathes can be woven to decorate our homes.
The leaves of the Wild Grape can be used in cooking. Stuffed with rice and meat, they resemble cabbage rolls.
Wild Grapes can be found growing in almost every climate. There are varieties in the far north, tropical areas and even the desert. Due to their speed of growth and ability to be trained to grow on a fence or any structure for that matter, they are a good choice to be used as a natural screen. Excellent habitat for birds and wildlife combined with their health benefits and wide range of uses, I don't understand why more people do not use Wild Grapes in their gardens.
To avoid poisoning, do not eat grapelike fruits with only a single seed (moonseed). Always be 100% sure of a plants identity before consuming anything in the wild.
Many thanks to Equilibrium, Tree_Climber and Evert for their photographic additions to PlantFiles.