Rubus idaeus, a.k.a. Red Raspberry
Raspberry is a woman’s best friend. The tea soothes menstrual cramps, tones the uterus and eases childbirth. Even the berries stock the body with vitamins that relax the impact of both PMS and menopause. No one thinks of the medicinal actions of raspberries as they sprinkle them on yogurt, yet this fruit is doing its work in the body just the same.
Children love raspberries too. Besides the joy of nibbling on their bright, sweet fruit, kids find this tea calms their stomach aches, decreases diarrhea and is easy to swallow. The dried leaf tea is fairly bland with a slightly fruity taste that is easy to give to kids who have a low tolerance for variety in flavors. This makes childhood a more pleasant place to be for both kids and their parents.
Medicinal Properties of Raspberry
Raspberry leaves contain properties that tone the entire reproductive system. Unlike other herbs, raspberry releases its constituents further down in the digestive tract than the stomach. This means the uterus gets to enjoy the majority of the medicinal qualities raspberry possesses. Raspberry contains fragirine, which tones the muscles of the pelvic region. If used regularly, it tones the female reproductive system and alleviates a multitude of troubles that cause women problems throughout their lives.
Midwives recommend raspberry leaf for women after birth as well. Not only does this herb help the uterus retain its former shape, but it stimulates breast milk production. The tea is a welcome companion to a nursing mother as it calms digestion and prevents colic as it transfers from mother to baby through breast milk. Since raspberry leaf soothes digestion, it can be given to children throughout childhood.
As a nutritive herb, raspberry leaf and fruit have a lot to offer. The berries are full of vitamins. The tingle of ascorbic acid can tickle your tongue if you allow yourself to savor a raspberry long enough. Raspberries in fruit and leaf form are high in chelated iron, magnesium, and calcium. These are minerals doctors advise women to be certain to focus on to avoid serious health problems later in life.
The astringent quality of raspberry gives this herb a broad spectrum of applications in treating swollen tissue in the mouth and throat. The pleasing taste and gentle energy makes raspberry a perfect companion for any parent with sick children. Most symptoms of the stomach flu relax under raspberry’s tender care.
Conditions Best Helped by Raspberry
Menstrual cramps are the bane of many women’s existence. Just a cup or two of delicious raspberry leaf tea eases menstrual flow and the accompanying cramping. Raspberry, as a uterine tonic, serves to regulate uterine muscles by either relaxing or increasing uterine tone as the situation requires. The alkaloid fragine interacts with the lower pelvic region of the body as its released deep within the bowels.
Raspberry is an ideal herb for pregnancy support. Other than toning the uterus and providing nutrition, raspberry also eases morning sickness. Raspberry leaf tea can be a stimulant if used excessively. One or two cups of tea daily is more than enough to stabilize digestion and soothe the pelvic region.
Diarrhea and bed wetting is a big childhood problem. Raspberry leaf has tannins that slow the flow of liquid in to the intestines, which allows the body to form a solid stool. It also tones the pelvic region, which allows the bladder to regain control even as the child sleeps. Be certain the little one doesn’t drink this helpful tea too close to bedtime. A cup with dinner is perfect. Adults can make good use of this herb as well. Menopausal women who find their bladder is losing its tone will benefit from a daily dose of raspberry leaf.
Sore throats and inflamed gums are soothed by a raspberry gargle. Try a spoonful of raspberry vinegar in a 1/2 cup of warm water to rinse the mouth during your tooth brushing routine. This herb prevents bleeding gums and throat conditions in which the glands are swollen. Excessive phlegm dries up when red raspberry leaf is on the job.
Consider using cooled raspberry leaf tea or tincture in a wet cloth to sooth minor burns. The tannins in raspberry treat inflamed tissue by stimulating the protein in your skin to build a protective barrier so the area can heal properly. This treatment is very soothing to sunburns.
Look for more research on the connection between raspberry and lung cancer treatment. New studies have been published that show in laboratory conditions that raspberry extract prevents lung cancer from metastasizing further. Containing the lung cancer into a treatable area can mean the difference between life and death for a patient with a new diagnosis. See research here.
List of Raspberry’s Medicinal Actions
Astringent, tonic, parturient, stimulant and nutritive.
Raspberry is one of the few herbs that must be processed from dry leaves. Fresh leaves contain a substance that causes stomach upset as they wilt. Making a tincture from raspberry leaves is simple. The easiest way to process this tincture is to add dried raspberry leaves to brandy. The results, after it has been shaken regularly for a few months and strained, is a delightful tincture that is easy to take straight from the dropper.
If you are processing raspberry leaf tincture using whiskey or vodka, be sure to add a bit of glycerin to bring out the herb’s natural sweetness. I add a little extra water to my alcohol preparations, which can bring the alcohol level down to 1/3 of the liquid contents. The water soluble constituents are the focus of these tinctures and seem to pack a greater wallop than do those processed as high alcohol tinctures.
Raspberry leaves are very easy to dry. Simply hang a few stalks upside down in a dark, well-ventilated spot. The leaves dry quickly so check the stalks daily. Once they are dry enough for use, they will be brittle and display a green color on the upside of the leaf with a grayish white color on the opposite side of the leaf. Wear gloves when stripping the leaves from their stalk to prevent injuries from the hairy prickles.
An afternoon of stove top attention can produce raspberry leaf glycerin or syrup that is perfect for a child with stomach flu symptoms. Raspberry glycerite is made by cooking dried raspberry leaves on low heat in a covered container with liquid that is 1/4 water and 3/4 glycerin. After the glycerin mixture has had time to cook and has darkened in color, remove the glycerite from the stove. Strain the results through cheesecloth and refrigerate. It will last 6 months in the refrigerator. As this formula involves the use of dry herb, more can be made at any time of year.
Gardening and Gathering
Raspberries are native to North America and tolerate a wide range of zones. They are very easy to grow in their native North American soil. They fall under the mantle of “soft fruits” because they grow on canes and do not store well without preservation. Raspberries prefer rich, heavy soil that is 6.0 pH or lower. Soil that is 7.0 pH is prone to iron deficiency which stunts the fruit harvest. Second year canes will bear fruit the same year that they are planted making them a pleasure for almost any gardener.
All varieties are self-fertile. Some bear in summer and some in fall. Virus free varieties are also available in garden shops. Raspberries tend to get leggy so some support is needed. A few bamboo canes or a fence with air circulation will do. There are everbearing varieties that provide fruit all summer long and need no support at all.
Pruning is the key to successful raspberry gardening. The berries produce fruit on the second year canes, so after the fruit has been harvested, these are the canes that must be pruned to ground level. The new canes without fruit will bear next year so those should be left alone. Remember to add compost to the soil every fall after pruning.
If birds are stealing you best fruit, you have two choices: cover your canes with bird netting or plant more than you can harvest and enjoy the wildlife show. The joy of being an herbalist really shines with raspberries since even if you lose all your fruit, you still have the leaves to enjoy for medicine.
Appearance: Tall shrubs that grow in stands up to 6 feet high. Single branches grow from ground armed with prickles completely covering their whitish bark. In spring, alternate, trifoliolate, lobed leaves appear followed by white flower clusters and red or black globe-shaped fruit. When harvested, raspberry fruit is hollow, unlike its cousin blackberry which holds onto its core when harvested.
Taste: Bright red fruit is sweet and tasty. Leaves are astringent and bland yet reminiscent of green tea’s flavor.
Odor: Tangy fruit scent. Leaves have very little odor.
Gather raspberry fruit in the summer when it’s ripe. The best time to collect raspberries is in the morning when they have the strongest flavor. Raspberries are fragile, so do not collect them in deep baskets or they will be crushed under their own weight. Rinse your produce gently to avoid bruising.
There are two schools of thought on collecting raspberry leaves. One is to collect them in the spring when the leaves have the most energy. The other is to collect them in the fall after berry season has passed to make best use of the entire plant. Either method produces leaves that must be dried before use so it is the opinion of this herbalist that either method is suitable.
The easiest way to harvest raspberry leaves is to cut down the entire raspberry stalk. Turn the stalks upside down and tie in clusters of four or five stalks to dry. Look for healthy raspberry leaves with deep green color. Keep an eye out for damage by insects or mold that could cause problems later. It is much easier to see the undesirable leaves when they are fresh than when they are dried.
Harvesting raspberry fruit is a satisfying experience. You only need to avoid the thorns and hold out your hands as the ripe fruit practically falls into your hands. Gently grasp the red berry and pull. If it comes off easily, it is ready. If is resists, wait a day before harvesting and move onto the next berry. Raspberries will continually ripen throughout a month or more. The search for ripe berries can be daily with the right sized patch.
If freezing berries, lay them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper to avoid clumping. In 6-12 hours, the berries can be taken out of the freezer and bagged for easier freezer storage. If drying berries, also dry with space between the fruit as it will clump together.
Using Raspberries to Care for Animals
Raspberries offer nutritious food for a wide variety of animals. Poultry and livestock enjoy the leaves straight from the stalk. Pregnant animals benefit from raspberry in the same way pregnant humans do. The nutritious berries are considered delicacies for animals both fresh or dried.
Try bathing a dog with oily skin or a heat rash in raspberry tea to offer him or her relief. The tannins cut the musty smell and condition the skin to help your pet regain good health. On the spot, topical treatments for burns or heat rash are comforting to dogs and the scent of raspberry leaf is not one their sensitive noses will find overwhelming.
Household Formulas, and Non-medicinal Uses
Raspberry fruit are delicious and refreshing. The list of uses for these tangy, sweet berries are only limited by your imagination. I love to add a handful of frozen berries to yogurt or smoothies. Dried raspberries get cooked into granola or cookies. Fresh raspberries decorate cakes and salads. Just a dab of raspberry jam on toast wakes up the groggy riser.
Raspberries and Raspberry leaf can also be used as a natural dye for a variety of fibers, including paper. The leaves produce dyes in a range of yellows to greens, the berries in pinks to reds and blues. No mordant is necessary to make these dyes colorfast, although an alum mordant will help increase colorfastness. Raspberry offers adults and children alike a unique and wonderful opportunity to create hand-dyed crafts naturally and using only ingredients that are generally safe.
Cautions for Raspberry
- No known cautions exist for raspberries. Discontinue use of raspberries if allergic reactions occur.
- Only consume dried raspberry leaves; fresh leaves exude a substance that causes stomach upset as they wilt.
- For more information see our History, Folklore, Myth and Magic page on Raspberry.