As autumn approaches the east coast, hardwood forests display a fine palette of fall colors. In California, the change of season appears in the many rows of cultivated grapes, whose leaves turn yellow, orange and red when night air temperatures drop. Spanish friars found the native grape too sour, so brought grapes from Europe to graft onto the wild grapevine for making sacramental wine. In 1839 Kentucky-native William Wolfskill planted the first table grape vineyard in California, and by the time 1869 rolled around, the first fresh table grapes were shipped to east coast markets. California’s climate turned out to be ideal for growing grapes and today, more than 856,000 acres are planted with table grape, wine and raisin vineyards, supplying 99% of U.S. commercially grown table grapes.
Our native grapevine was always used as food and medicine. Native Americans made grape leaf tea for diarrhea, hepatitis, stomach aches and thrush. They used the root as a tonic and wilted grape leaves as poultices for mastitis, rheumatism, headaches and fevers. Farmers later put the leaves in their hats to keep their heads cool and also used the leaves to get fermented pickles and sauerkraut off to a good start. This is similar to how the leaf was being used in Iran and the Mediterranean where grape leaves are now found canned or bottled for wrapping foods like rice, vegetables or meats. Fresh, young grape leaves are best consumed after they're steamed or blanched, while young tendrils can be added raw to salads. The leaves are high in vitamin E, K, A and manganese and are used in herbal combinations to detox the liver, lower blood pressure and reduce edema in those with chronic venous insufficiency.
The fruit is well-known for its powerful antioxidant polyphenols, especially resveratrol and quercetin found in the skin of red grapes. These chemicals are highly anti-inflammatory and help prevent or slow cancer and tumor growth. They can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing platelet build-up. Studies showed marked improvement in cardiovascular patients who drank three glasses of concord grape juice a day for two weeks, mirroring old remedies of grape juice fasts for cleansing the blood. Grapeseed oil is made with seeds from wine grapes and can promote skin repair, since it contains twice the Vitamin E as olive oil. What a gift the grape!