Grape (vitis vinifera)

Grapes are cultivated in warm, temperate regions throughout the world. The deciduous climbing vine has a twisted trunk and bears clusters of oval to round, green to black fruits long used for food and drink.

Wine made from grapes has been tremendously important to many of the world’s cultures. The earliest-known wine making is recorded through archeological findings from the Caucasus region in Europe around 8,000 years ago and in Iran around 7,000 years ago. Wine produced from grapes was a staple beverage and very important to ceremonial life in ancient Egypt at least 4,500 years ago. Grapes and wine are mentioned frequently throughout the Bible.

A recent study of important grape cultivars, using genetic mapping techniques, pinpointed the origin of Vitis vinifera as Georgia, in Eurasia. Most of the familiar varieties used to make modern wines originated with this species, although native North American grape species, such as V. labrusca, have been crossed with the European grape to make flavorful hybrids that are more cold hardy and disease resistant than the European varieties.


Plant profile

Common Names: Grape, Wine Grape

Description: Deciduous, woody vine, up to 12 feet long; alternate palmate leaves; inconspicuous greenish flowers

Hardiness: To Zone 7; modern crosses and varieties hardy to Zone 3

Family: Vitaceae

Flowering: Spring

Parts Used: Fruit, seeds, and leaves

Range/Habitat: Native to southern Europe and southwestern Asia

Medicinal use

Grapes are rich in flavonoids that appear to lower the risk of heart disease. The fruits are mildly laxative, and the dried fruits (raisins) have mild expectorant properties. The skin of red grapes contains resveratrol, a strong antioxidant; both red wine and red grape juice are believed to offer antioxidant and heart-protective benefits. Grape leaves have astringent properties and may be used to treat diarrhea and varicose veins.

Grape seed contains the strong antioxidants oligomeric procyanidins (also known as procyanidolic oligomers, or PCOs). The antioxidant effects, along with the ability to bond with collagen, help promote skin health, elasticity, and flexibility, providing a more youthful appearance and possibly slowing your skin’s aging. Extract of grape seed has been used to treat circulatory problems such as capillary fragility and varicose veins, and to reduce inflammation.

How to grow it

Grape vines thrive in full sun and fertile, slightly acidic soil. The site should be well drained; the plants will not tolerate standing water. Planting on a southern slope or near the south side of a building will help ensure the plants get the warm temperatures and sunlight necessary for ripening. Each vine will require 8 feet of sturdy trellis to support the fruiting canes.

Plant 1-year-old bareroot plants in spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Remove all but the most vigorous cane, then shorten the cane to two strong buds. After planting, apply balanced slow-release fertilizer on the surface of the soil around each vine; repeat monthly until early July. Proper pruning and thinning are essential, and many good books are available on the topic. Protect ripening fruits from birds with netting.