Preserving fresh grape leaves: a tasty endeavor, or “bad news bears”?

August 6, 2009 | By | Comments (10)


The Thompson Seedless grapevine in the Sunset test garden.

The grape season is about to begin, but homemade wine isn’t
the only thing on our minds here in One-Block-Diet land. In keeping with our use-everything-that-is-useable
philosophy, it occurred to us that the leaves of a particular grape vine in
Sunset’s test garden could make a tasty addition to our next one-block feast, which we’re planning to have
in October.

Grape leaves are used extensively in many parts of the world
as tender, mildly-flavored wrappings for everything from spiced, nutty rice to
grilled feta. The yummy possibilities were more than enough motivation for us
to investigate how to harvest and prepare these leaves for immediate and future

After doing some research, we discovered that the best time
to harvest fresh grape leaves is late spring to early summer. The later the
season gets, the tougher the leaves become.

No matter–our plan is to harvest and preserve the
hopefully-still-tender leaves first thing tomorrow. The trouble is, our
research has yielded several different ways of freezing and brining grape
leaves, and we’re not entirely sure what method is the best one to implement.

Furthermore, we’re a tad concerned about the potential for
botulism poisoning when canning our leaves. Grape leaves are classified as a
low-acid food, and thus if they are improperly canned, they can breed the
bacteria that produces the dangerous botulism toxin. Sunset editorial intern Natalie Jabbar, upon hearing news of our canning plans, raises an eyebrow. “I took microbiology a few years ago, learned a lot about dangerous spores,” she says, shaking her head. “Canning is often bad news bears.”

We may be stubbornly curious and slightly crazy, but despite
our misgivings, we’ve put together an action plan, resolving to add plenty of
citric acid to our brined leaves and to boil the heck out of them after they
are sealed in jars.
  What follows
is a hybrid of several preserving suggestions gleaned from:

Najat Sukhun, who is a longtime home cook and Natalie Jabbar’s mom.
(Najat suggested that we use citric acid rather than lemon juice to ensure that
our grape leaf brine has consistently adequate levels of acid to ward off

Fresh Preserving’s official guide to canning low-acid
 Exceptionally comprehensive information, with an emphasis on safety.

Ellen’s Kitchen:
Where we got a lot of our info. Very clear instructions and appealing recipes
at the end.

Mama’s Taverna:
Nice pictorial depictions of how to preserve grape leaves.

Kalofagas: One man and his Greek cooking.

If any of you readers are experienced in preserving fresh
grape leaves, we welcome any and all advice!

Here are the procedures that we intend to follow.

Picking the Grape

Choose leaves that are approximately the size of a woman’s
hand, and which are light to light-medium green.
  Najat advises looking for shiny, smooth leaves and steering
clear of fuzzy, thick ones. Also, make sure your leaves come from vines that
have not been sprayed with pesticides.

To Use Immediately

  1. Rinse
    your leaves well and pat dry.
  2. Bring
    1 part salt to 4 parts water to a boil.
      Blanch leaves in batches of 12-15, covering them with
    the boiling water and blanching for 2-3 minutes.
      Remove leaves and place them in ice water until fully
      Dry with a

To Freeze

  1. Follow
    the above steps, then stack similar-sized leaves 6-20 at a time, lay them flat so they don’t crack, and place them in freezer bags. Freeze for up to 6
  2. To
    use, thaw in a colander and use immediately.

To Brine

  1. Sterilize
    several canning jars by putting them in a pot of water and boiling for 10
    minutes. Lower the heat to a simmer and keep jars in the hot water until
  2. Place
    lids (without bands) in another saucepan and place over medium-low heat
    until bubbles form (do not boil). Remove from heat and keep lids in the
    hot water until needed.
  3. Fill
    your canner/boiling pot halfway with hot water and bring to a boil over
    medium heat.
  4. Remove
    jars from the pot of hot water using a jar lifter.
  5. Tie
    blanched leaves into bundles.

    Gently push bundles into jars with a wooden spoon, leaving a good
    1½ to 2 inches between the bundle top and the jar’s rim.
  6. Prepare
    the brine by boiling ¼ cup kosher salt with every 4 cups of water you
      Add 2 ½ to 3 tsp citric
    acid powder for every 4 cups of the brine. Boil brine (with citric acid)
    for a minimum of five minutes, then pour the hot brine into your
    leaf-filled jars.
      Make sure
    that the brine covers the leaf bundle by at least 1 inch.
  7. Remove
    air bubbles by running a clean knife inside the rim of each jar.
  8. Remove
    jar lids from their hot water using tongs. Place lids on top of jars so
    that sealing compound on lids meets the jar rims. Seal the jars by placing
    bands on jars and tightening them firmly (do not force). Place sealed jars
    in canner/boiling pot and fill with enough water to cover jars by about an
    inch. Boil, covered, on high heat for 15 minutes. Let jars cool and store
    in a dark, cool place for up to a year.


For more tips on
Sunset’s way to can, click here.

We’ll keep you posted on how this all turns out!

By Kaitlin Louie, Sunset food intern


  1. Gary LA

    Too much intense overkill labor boiling boiling boiling the poor grape leaves and jars to death!!!! Poor fresh grape leaves don’t need to be boiled to death for general safety if they promptly gently frozen without all that overly salty acidic brine preparation added to them!!!! Otherwise very nice interesting article thankyou!!!!

    August 20, 2015 at 8:40 pm
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  4. Miss Clarity

    Well, I followed your directions on brining the beautiful grape leaves from my garden to the letter and number and ‘T’. I was so excited about saving $6.00 per bottle of Reeves grapeleaves that the suspense of brining had me at ‘saving $6.00 per bottle of Reeves grape leaves’ until I put the leaves in the boiling brine water and they shrivelled almost immediately smaller than an old man you-know-what thingie majigger in an ice bath.

    So, thank God for Reeves jarred grape leaves.

    May 17, 2014 at 4:11 pm
  5. kc

    i like leaves of grapevine

    May 12, 2014 at 12:46 pm
  6. bill paloutzian

    can someone tell me why my bottled in brine (home picked) end up coming out of the jar too tender to separate?

    February 11, 2013 at 9:47 am
  7. Brenda Thompson

    How can grape leaves be preserved to later use in canning of pickles for crispness? I would very much like to make pickles using nothing chemical, and have read by many that grape leaves can be used instead of pickle crisp. Timing of when the cucumbers are ready, doesnt coincide with when the grape leaves are harvested. Any idea on that one woudl be appreicated.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:25 am
  8. Nicole menzies

    how do you clean grape leaves if they have come from a vineyard that does spray it’s grapes???

    would prefer to use fresh leaves, but am unable to get fresh anywhere other than the vineyard

    November 20, 2010 at 1:31 pm
  9. Lulu Barbarian

    Thank you for your kind words. And thanks for figuring out a safe way of canning grape leaves. I’ll give your recipe a try next time I make preserve some.

    I’m also intrigued by the dry-pack method in the post you linked to, where the leaves are rolled up and put into jars with no brine. I wonder why the leaves don’t get moldy?

    August 17, 2009 at 11:07 pm
  10. Sheila Schmitz

    I’m so glad you’re doing this. A few years ago I bought a Viognier vine on a whim. Of course one vine isn’t enough for wine, but we did discover we could make a refreshing pink granita from the fruit. And now you’ve given me another way to have fun with my crazy one-off vine.

    August 9, 2009 at 5:10 pm

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