Well, its complicated! For some unknown reason, the International Herb Association made a very peculiar choice for this year. The 2020 Herb of the Year is…Rubus spp. Instead of one herb, Rubus spp. is a gigantic and widely diverse group of plants in the Rosaceae (Rose) family, mostly berry-bearing with woody, thorny stems. The best-known of these include blackberries, raspberries, and dewberries but if you Google “rubus spp” you will see for yourself just how many different plants fall into this category.
So I’m following the lead of the Herb Society of America, who has named Raspberry (or Brambles) as their choice for Herb of the Year. Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) is familiar to everyone and offers the most interest to herbalists.
Raspberries originated in Asia and were brought to North America thousands of years ago. Archaeologists have found evidence that the earliest humans ate these. Native Americans, in particular the Cherokee, Iroquois, and Mohawk Nations were using the been found in Roman forts. Palladius recorded the domestication of raspberries as early as the 5th century. They are easily grown and thrive in any temperate climate.
Over the decades, raspberries increased in worldwide popularity. In medieval times, the juice was used for everything from providing the red in illuminated manuscripts to treatment for wounds. Mention of raspberry leaf first appeared in print in the 1597 edition of John Norton’s “The Herbal”.
Late Summer is the best time to harvest the berries if you dare to brave the thorns. They are delicious eaten fresh or preserved by drying. The sprouts of the canes (branches) are also edible when peeled. Young leaves and sometimes root bark can be brewed as tea. The roots of some species can be used to treat stomach upsets, diarrhea, sore eyes, and female ailments
The berries are a summertime treat everywhere and the leaves are equally tasty when brewed as a tea. If you’ve never tasted red raspberry leaf tea, you’ve missed a delicious experience. Most people cringe when herbal tea is mentioned but raspberry leaves have none of the grassy, bitter or otherwise dreaded taste often associated with medicinal tea. Surprisingly, it tastes nothing like raspberries, rather something like a mild black tea and contains no caffeine. Try it sometime!
Raspberry, especially the leaf, is known as a “women’s herb” because of its use as a tonic for general female functions, particularly good for pregnancy. It strengthens the womb, aids fertility and childbirth, and helps with breastfeeding. The reasons behind this are because raspberry leaf is rich in vitamins and minerals including magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, Vitamins B, A, C and E. B-vitamins help settle nausea, soothe leg cramps and improve sleep. Vitamin C is an overall immune booster.
Here’s a recipe for a blend of herbs featuring raspberry leaf:
1/2 cup raspberry leaf, 1/4 cup alfalfa leaf, 1/2 cup dried nettle leaf, 1/4 fenugreek seeds, 1/4 cup fennel seeds, 1/4 cup dried chamomile flowers, 1/4 cup dandelion leaf.
This makes enough for 36 cups of tasty and beneficial tea! Mix the herbs and store in glass jar. Add 1 Tablespoon of the herbs to 2 cups boiling water and simmer 10-15 minutes, depending on the desired strength. Strain and serve. (or if you don’t have access to these herbs, teabags with similar ingredients can be purchased from Traditional Medicinals Company under the name “Mother’s Milk Organic Tea”.
Given its gentle healing nature, it should come as no surprise that raspberry is a feminine, Moon/Venus-ruled herb. In addition to its association with women, the sweet berries are often considered a symbol of love, often an ingredient in love potions. In olden times, the brambles were hung above windows and doors for protection as well as placed there when there was a death in the house, to keep the spirit of the deceased from returning once it has departed.
There are other healing applications for this herb. Tannin in the leaves works as an astringent, soothing sunburn, eczema, rashes and other skin irritations when used externally. A mouthwash of the leaf-tea is good for the gums. It’s a good idea to keep some raspberry leaf tincture on hand for any of these situations.
How to Make the Tincture
You’ll need: 1/2 cup – 1 cup raspberry leaf; 1 1/2 – 2 cups boiling water; 1 1/2 cup – 2 cups vodka or rum; a clean, glass quart jar with air tight lid.
Put fresh or dried leaves in the jar and pour boiling water over, just enough to cover the leaves, stirring if needed. Fill the rest of the jar with the vodka or rum and cover tightly. Keep in cool, dark place , shaking daily, for six weeks then strain through cheesecloth. Store in a jar or in tincture vials.
IMPORTANT NOTE: ALWAYS TALK WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE USING ANY HERBAL REMEDIES. Raspberry leaf may elevate blood sugar in diabetics. It may also increase estrogen levels. Do not use if bleeding or spotting during pregnancy.
Cultivating raspberries is easy. The plant is not fussy about soil, although it will be more productive in slightly acid to neutral soil. It doesn’t need much space to fruit out plenty of berries, which can be harvested for years to come. Raspberry is self-fertilizing, that is, you only need one plant since it is pollinated by bees. Expect to see fruit a year after the first planting. Pruning should be done each year for best growth because the fruit-bearing canes only live for 2 years and dead canes need cut back so new ones can grow. If you want to grow raspberries, wait till after the last frost date then prepare a sunny spot, sheltered from wind and not too wet, by digging a hole big enough for roots to spread. Mix in some compost. For best results, get a year-old cane from a good nursery and soak the roots for an hour or two before planting. Set it in so that the crown is an inch or so above ground level. It’s not a good idea to plant it near any wild berries or there may be unwanted disease. Before fruiting, raspberries bloom with lovely white flowers. They are hardy with from zones 2 – 8. Not only will they provide you with years of enjoyment and health but they will also attract birds and butterflies.
I hope this article has inspired you to seek out the many joys and benefits of Rubus idaeus, the 2020 Herb of the Year!