Cali Edibles: Wild Grapes, July’s Plant of the Month

Summer is full effect! You may have noticed that a lot of plants took quite a beating from the heat, but our natives are resilient and this month’s native plant is no exception. We are celebrating Vitis californica, also known as California wild grapes.

Photo by Mission Canyon Association.
By Angela Ngo

In the Wild

It grows widespread throughout California and southwestern Oregon. You can find it in the wild along streams and rivers, but you can also find them twining along shrubs and trees in dry conditions. It is winter deciduous but will pop right back to greenery one the weather starts to warm up. Right about now, you should see many bunches of green grapes forming, just waiting to ripen and get eaten!

In the Yard

California wild grape can grow over 10 meters (33 feet) in length per plant. It climbs on other plants and provides great shade if you have an arbor or trellis. Without a trellis or support, this plant can get quite invasive and overgrown in your garden if you do not regularly prune. It grows very fast and can cover an entire area within one growing season.

California wild grape also functions as an important food plant for a variety of wildlife, especially birds. The thick foliage provides a cover for small mammals and small nesting birds. Bees and butterflies enjoy the flowers, and it is a great plant for providing a sanctuary for our California native pollinators.. On the upside, no summer water is necessary, as long as the winter and spring rains have been sufficient!

Eat Them Up

You can take the ripened fruits and eat them; they are quite tart if you have the palette for that! Other common recipes are making them into jams, fillings, jellies, juices, and frozen treats. If you’re interested in wine crafting, you can make a tart pinot with the grapes as well. If you crush the grapes and let them sit for a few months, you’ll have ready vinegar to use in the garden as a natural pesticide, but if you have just the right timing, you can make a red vinegar for a salad garnish.

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