23 Oct 2018
Oh those purple berries! They are everywhere this time of year, but what are they?
The Sea Grape (Coccoloba Uvifera), is native to South Florida, the Caribbean and South America. This hearty evergreen plant has smooth, silvery-brown bark and round, leathery leaves up to 10 inches in diameter with red midribs. In late Summer and early Fall, female sea grape plants bear grape-like fruit in bunches of up to 75 berries per bunch.
Along the coast, the Sea Grape is so important to maintaining a healthy dune system and preventing erosion that the state of Florida has protected it. The removal is banned and trimming is restricted in beach areas. Exposed to the high winds of the beach, the plant grows bushy and wide to embrace harsh conditions. In a more sheltered location, the Sea Grape grows as a tree and can reach heights of up to 35 feet or so.
The plant can be used in a variety of ways. Sea grape wood is used to make furniture and the bark extract can be used to tan leather. Bark resin can be helpful for throat ailments and the roots have been used to treat dysentery; as the leaves have medicinal properties.
The sea grape itself is mostly pit, which is inedible, and there is not enough flesh on the fruit to merit commercial cultivation. But, for the individual consumer, the sea grape can be quite “fruitful.” The berries turn from bright green to deep purple as they ripen. Unlike other grapes, sea grapes ripen a few at a time and must be shaken or picked from the stem.
The tart sweetness of the raw berries might not be to everyone’s taste, but they can be cooked into delicious jellies and jams. They can also be fermented into sea grape wine or even vinegar. Below, find a recipe for Sea Grape jelly. Highly coveted by native Floridians, it makes a special gift!