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Red raspberry leaf has been a favoured medicine through the ages for easing labour.

Rubus

Rubus idaeus L. Rosaceae

Rubus' extensive history of use is a testament to the tradition of herbal medicine in childbirth.

  • How does it feel?

    Raspberry leaf has a powerfully astringent action which is felt directly on tasting. The presence of astringency in a herb indicates tannin content, the taste of tannins is sour due to their natural acidity. The taste develops into bitter, sharp and slightly aromatic with hints of fresh mown grass. A herb that feels fresh and tonifying to drink as tea, used as fresh or dried herb.

  • What can I use it for?

    Raspberry is a common garden plant as the fruit is a well-known favourite. The leaves are also used in herbal medicine and can be harvested for this purpose in early summer.

    Raspberry leaf is a well-known and widely used herb for strengthening and toning the uterus and thus preparing the body for labour. It has a very long history of use for this purpose. It purportedly strengthens contractions and checks haemorrhage during labour (

    Additionally, it may help milk production, and aid the body in recovery from childbirth. For this, it is drunk as a tea. Because raspberry leaf is considered a uterine tonic, it may also help with heavy or painful menstruation.

    The astringency of the leaf is due to its tannin content. Herbs with high tannins can be applied in cases of diarrhoea if there is no serious underlying cause. They can also be applied topically to wounds as a lotion or poultice to aid healing.

    Raspberry leaf infusion is also sometimes used for eye conditions such as styes, conjunctivitis and blepharitis, much in the same way as with eyebright, which it can also be used in combination with  (9).

  • Into the heart of Rubus

    Raspberry leaf is a wonderful cooling and drying medicine that brings tone to our inner landscape. Astringent herbs like raspberry leaf pucker the mucous membranes (the inner lining of our visceral organs), the same goes when used externally for wounds and burns.

    This toning effect is a result of the tannin compounds found in Raspberry leaf, which are present in ample quantities. Tannins create a tough impermeable ‘leather like’ film over the mucous membranes, creating a protective layer between our inner and outer world, perhaps this could be seen also as a boundary keeper.

    A holistic herbalist would consider the relationship between our physiological and emotional experiences and how our inner landscape often reflects our outward experiences (and vice versa). The tissue state that would indicate the need for tonic herbs (such as with conditions where there are excess secretions and looseness of tissues) may also come hand in hand with a patient who has boundary problems in their relationships. Just as the tonic herbs creates a boundary, by increasing the strength of the membranes of our digestive system.

    This therapeutic action could be translated as one that may support a person to have stronger boundaries, perhaps given in lower ‘energetic’ doses to a patient for this application.

    Often our experiences and interactions with the world around us are reflected by our inner world, our body tissues respond to our emotional state. This can be understood in biomedical terms as our experiences inform our nervous system. Stress and traumatic experiences leave a blueprint by which our Autonomic nervous system (ANS) responds accordingly.

    Herbs work in their subtle, energetic ways to re-inform our system, allowing it to return to a balanced function.

    By the Galenic Key of temperaments, all parts of the Raspberry plant can be used as medicine, the roots, stalks, leaves, flowers and unripe fruit are cold and drying in the first degree. Which can be used for excess secretions, such as with menorrhagia (heavy menstruation), loose bowels, ulcers, sores and for the cooling of burns. NOTE: burns should always be treated conventionally before applying herbs.

  • Traditional uses

    Although it has been a favourite of midwives for easing labour and encouraging milk production, red raspberry leaf has a history of being used for diarrhoea, where it was drunk as a decoction. 

    It has also been used for wound care. The infusion was used as a wash for conjunctivitis, bleeding gums, and a lotion for ulcers and other wounds. It can also be applied as a gargle for sore throats. A poultice of the leaf, combined with slippery elm, is recommended by Grieve for wounds and burns, and to draw infection.

    Raspberry fruit is also a delight, and has been used medicinally as well. Culpepper favoured the syrup of the fruit for digestive and dental complaints, for preventing miscarriage, and to prevent “sickness and retching”.

    The leaves and roots are anti-inflammatory, astringent, decongestant, ophthalmic, oxytocic and mildly stimulant. Traditionally blackberry and raspberry leafs were used together to improve energy levels. The tea has also been used traditionally as a remedy for relieving painful menstrual cramps.

    Externally, the leaves and roots are used as a gargle to treat tonsillitis and mouth inflammations, as a poultice and wash to treat sores, conjunctivitis, minor wounds, burns and varicose ulcers

  • Traditional actions

    Western herbal medicine actions:

    • Antimicrobial
    • Antioxidant
    • Astringent
    • Bitter
    • Carminative
    • Diuretic
    • Uterine tonic
    • Vulnerary

    Traditional Chinese medicine actions:

    • Drain dampness
    • Cool and transform phlegm-heat
    • Warm the interior and expel cold
    • Astringents – stabilise and bind

     

  • What practitioners say

    Reproductive: Red raspberry leaf is best known as a safe and widely used partus praeparator, which Trickey recommends using in the last 5 months of pregnancy (2). Not only does this support the uterus in preparation for giving birth and ease the birth process, but it also helps in involuting the uterus after delivery, and with the production of breast milk.

    The leaf is also recommended in cases of heavy and painful menstrual bleeding, as well as the post-operation care of the uterus. This is due to its tonic and vulnerary action. It may also be applied in cases of vaginal discharge, although it is important to seek medical attention if discharge has changed.

    The actions of raspberry leaf are parturient (or partus praeparator), it works as a uterine tonic, astringent, nutritive and uterine spasmolytic.

    It is also sometimes used for the symptoms of endometriosis. In pregnancy it is usually effective for morning sickness and nausea that extends into the second trimester.

    Skin: The tea can also be made into a wash to aid the healing of wounds, burns, bleeding gums, tonsillitis, and conjunctivitis and acts as helpful as a mouthwash for inflammation of the mouth and throat. It is also useful as an eye lotion for conjunctivitis.

    Other: Raspberry leaf is also found to have antioxidant activity, making it a herb that may be additionally supportive for cellular health. It may be used as a conjunctive treatment for cell abnormalities (12).

    Raspberry leaf is rich in trace minerals such as iron, manganese, potassium, zinc, copper, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous, making it an excellent blood tonic and source of nutrients, an additional benefit to the expectant mother and her baby, or for anyone using the tea.

  • Research

    A study that consisted of 108 mothers; 57 (52.8%) who consumed raspberry leaf products while 51 (47.2%) were in the control group. The findings suggest that raspberry leaf herb is safe to take to shorten labour with no identified side effects for the women or their babies. The findings also suggest that raspberry leaf might decrease the likelihood of pre and post-term gestation. An unexpected finding in this study seems to indicate that women who ingest raspberry leaf might be less likely to receive an artificial rupture of their membranes, or require a caesarean section, forceps or vacuum birth than the women in the control group (10).

    In another study to investigate the use of herbal medicines by pregnant women. A structured questionnaire was given under interview of 600 women at Stavanger University Hospital Norway within five days after birth. Medical birth charts were reviewed with respect to pregnancy outcome. There was a significant association between the use of raspberry leaves and the reduced incidence of caesarean delivery (11).

    A study was carried out to examine the biological activities and the chemical composition of the extract of leaves of R. idaeus, obtained by steam distillation. The extract showed a strong antioxidant capacity and a modest antibacterial activity against two bacterial strains, as well as significant cytotoxic activity against tumor cell lines (Caco-2 and HL60). Additionally Raspberry leaf was found to be proliferative on healthy cells (12).

    Considering its long standing history of use and popularity, there have been remarkably few clinical trials for the efficacy and safety of red raspberry leaf. A review in 2009 found only 12 studies that met the research criteria, where only 5 were clinical trials and the rest were either in vitro or animal studies.

  • Did you know?

    Red raspberry leaf was included in the British Pharmaceutical Codex, where it was indicated for heavy menstrual bleeding.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Although there is a limited amount of information, no drug interactions or safety concerns have been highlighted.
    As raspberry leaf contains tannins, prolonged consumption may interfere with mineral absorption.

  • Interactions

    None known

  • Contraindications

    None known

  • Preparation

    • Fresh or dried leaf tea
    • Tincture
  • Dosage

    • Tincture: 2-4ml three times per day (1:5)
    • Dried: 2 tsp with 1 cup boiling water, one to three times per day
  • Plant parts used

    • Leaf
    • Fruit
    • Flower
    • Root (mainly leaf)
  • Constituents

    Leaf

    • Flavonoids (up to 5%): kaempferol and quercetin
    • Tannins (up to 10%): gallo- and ellagi-tannins
    • Phenolic acids
    • Volatile oil
    • Minerals: iron, manganese, potassium, zinc, copper, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous
    • Vitamin C

    Fruit

    • Anthocyanins
    • Tannins
    • Flavonoids
    • Vitamins A
  • Habitat

    The plant is native to Europe and Asia, and is found in mountainous regions in cold climates, usually growing in Forest, Shrubland, Wetlands (inland) or Artificial/Terrestrial.

  • Sustainability

    According to the IUCN Red List, Raspberry is classified as of ‘least concern’, this means that it is not under threat as a plant in its natural habitats. 

    Raspberries are considered invasive, a plant that is likely to spread out of control. It is advised to contain or manage its growth by creating a boundary around any existing plants.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific / botanical name is used and that suppliers states clearly the source of ingredients used in the product. 

    A supplier should also be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where supply chain is unknown. 

  • How to grow

    Plant raspberry canes 45cm apart with 1.8m between rows in moist but well-drained, fertile soil. For best results in open, sunny location. Firm in and water well. Tie in summer-fruiting canes as they grow, cutting back weak stems (autumn-fruiting varieties do not require support). 

    In spring, feed with a general fertiliser and mulch around plants to keep their roots slightly moist and to suppress weeds. Keep the plants well watered during dry spells. Harvest raspberries as and when they ripen. Cut autumn-fruiting canes back to the ground after fruiting, and cut back old canes of summer-fruiting varieties, leaving new canes for next year’s crop.

  • Recipe

    A tea for heavy menstruation

    Ingredients:

    • 15g Raspberry leaf
    • 15g Lady’s Mantle
    • 20g Nettle leaf

    Method:

    Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Mix 1 tsp of the blend with 1 cup boiling water and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Drink 1 cup three times daily.

  • References

    1. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publ.; 1971.
    2. Trickey R. Women, Hormones & The Menstrual Cycle. Fairfield, Vic.: Ruth Trickey/Trickey Enterprises (Victoria); 2011.
    3. Holst L, Haavik S, Nordeng H. Raspberry leaf – Should it be recommended to pregnant women?. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2009;15(4):204-208. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2009.05.003
    4. Burn J, Withell E. A principle in raspberry leaves which relaxes uterine muscle. The Lancet. 1941;238(6149):1-3. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(00)71348-1
    5. Bamford D, Percival R, Tothill A. Raspberry leaf tea: a new aspect to an old problem. British Journal of Pharmacology. 1970;40:161P-162P.
    6. Simpson M, Parsons M, Greenwood J, Wade K. Raspberry leaf in pregnancy: Its safety and efficacy in labour. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2001;46(2):51-59. doi:10.1016 s1526-9523(01)00095-2
    7. Edwards S, Rocha I, Williamson E, Heinrich M. Phytopharmacy. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Inc.; 2015.
    8. Hoffman. D. Medical Herbalism. The science and practice of Herbal Medicine. 2003. Healing Arts Press. India. 
    9. Mills, S.Y. (1993). The essential book of herbal medicine. Editorial: Penguin.
    10. Parsons, M., Simpson, M. and Ponton, T. (1999). Raspberry leaf and its effect on labour: Safety and efficacy. Australian College of Midwives Incorporated Journal, 12(3), pp.20–25. doi:10.1016/s1031-170x(99)80008-7.
    11. Nordeng, H., Bayne, K., Havnen, G.C. and Paulsen, B.S. (2011). Use of herbal drugs during pregnancy among 600 Norwegian women in relation to concurrent use of conventional drugs and pregnancy outcome. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 17(3), pp.147–151. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2010.09.002.
    12. De Santis, D., Carbone, K., Garzoli, S., Laghezza Masci, V. and Turchetti, G. (2022). Bioactivity and Chemical Profile of Rubus idaeus L. Leaves Steam-Distillation Extract. Foods, [online] 11(10), p.1455. doi:10.3390/foods11101455.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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