You will notice when you hike along the double loop trail in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest that you don’t see much wild grape. You may see huge Dutchman Pipevine and some Virginia Creeper, but not the grape.
This past week I’ve been spending much of my time clearing overgrown areas on our property. With all the unusually warm weather the typical growth spurt that occurs in June has arrived early and I was not prepared. Wild grapes are one of the vines that, if left unchecked, will cover whole areas by the end of the summer. One of my friends asked me why I don’t just let it grow. After all, it is a useful plant. That is true, but like many plants, the grape grows very quickly and can easily strangle and shade out equally useful plants around it.
Shortly after that conversation I received a call from another friend of mine about using the sap of the grape. I had noticed that when I cut the grapevines, copious amounts of clear, watery sap dripped from the grapevines. My friend mentioned that she had been told that the sap could be used to treat psoriasis and as a hair conditioner. I was intrigued. I had not heard of using the sap, only the leaves and fruit.
I discovered that in the past few years the sap of the grape has come to the attention of researchers. Allegedly, according to an article written in 2014, grapevine sap has amazing antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and astringent properties. Additionally, the sap contains a substance called viniferine, which restores radiance to the skin. Supposedly, in the past, women would wash their hair and skin with fresh grapevine sap every spring. We know that viniferine improves circulation and thereby would give the skin a healthy glow. The article I found was posted on natureword.com and in Herbs and Spices magazine.
“In the 15th century in France, country doctors used the gummy sap, called “vine tears,” pure or reduced to a resin, on superficial wounds and as an eye lotion.”
The sap has been traditionally used as a remedy for skin diseases and is also an excellent lotion for the eyes. It was often used as an eye wash, although modern science strongly warns against putting anything into your eyes without checking with a doctor and making sure that it is safe. It used to be used as a treatment for pink eye, a way to stop the spread of the infection and to treat internal styes. The sap was dripped into the eyes every morning and night until the eye cleared up. Although scientific evidence does support the claim that the sap is a potent anti-inflammatory and antiseptic it is vital that you know exactly what is wrong with your eye before experimenting.
We now know that the sap is also a diuretic. Traditionally it was used to detoxify the liver and was used by people who had liver and kidney problems. A person would drink a cup of fresh grapevine sap every morning before breakfast. The sap is mostly water, but it also contains minerals, sugars and phyto chemicals meant to protect the vine from frost damage and to help buds develop in the spring.
This week I’m going to carry an empty milk jug with me as I lop away at the grape vines along our driveway. I can’t wait to try the sap on my hair and skin. I’m not concerned that I’ll eliminate the grape on my property. I know that every spring I’ll find plenty of it so that I can continue a long-standing tradition.
With the increased amount of light due to the death of the Eastern Hemlock Trees, grape is taking a fresh stronghold in the Joyce Kilmer Forest along the lower loop. If we spot any, we let the U.S. Forest Service know exactly where it is and they will take care that it doesn’t try and take over new territory.