Red Raspberry, a member of the Rose family, is renowned for it's beneficial effects upon pregnancy, and is recommended to pregnant women in China and Europe, as well as in North America. Raspberry leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins B, C, and E. They contain an alkaloid known as fragerine which relaxes and strengthens the uterus and tones the pelvic muscles. In their toning action on the reproductive system, raspberry leaves promote an easier labor and delivery by reducing uterine tension and increasing uterine effectiveness.
Because raspberry leaf provides dual qualities as a mild stimulant and a gentle relaxant it has a regulating effect on the uterus. Raspberry remains one of the safest and most effective herbs for use in the entire course of pregnancy. A recommended usage of this tea is one cup three times daily in the first trimester, one to two cups three times daily in the second trimester, and two to three cups three times daily through the third trimester and postpartum. A few women have found that they are especially sensitive to red raspberry's toning effect in the first trimester and tend to have too much uterine stimulation. If red raspberry is being used and uterine cramping is experienced in the first trimester, it's best to lighten up or stop using this herb until later in the pregnancy. Raspberry can, however, have a reasonably good effect in preventing miscarriage and hemorrhage, so careful history taking and evaluation on the part of the care provider is important.
Raspberry's use as a galactogogue is related to it's high mineral content. It may be used independently to increase breast milk, or combined with other excellent galactagogues like fenugreek seed, nettles, hops, or blessed thistle. However, if a nursing mother drinking daily raspberry leaf tea comments that she is not making enough milk, discontinue raspberry leaf for about a week to determine if its astringent qualities are counteracting its milk producing qualities.
Several other beneficial uses of raspberry leaf infusion arise from its stature as a nourishing herb. An excellent source of calcium and vitamin C, it will enhance any person's dietary intake. Its astringent property is effective as a gargle or mouthwash, as well as for diarrhea in both children and adults. When caring for an ill child, brew up a pot of raspberry leaf tea and serve it throughout the day. As with raspberry tea in pregnancy, it can be used as a basic herbal infusion to which other medicinal herbs or tinctures may be added as needed.
Raspberry leaf has been associated with an increase in fertility in both men and women, may alleviate morning sickness when sipped before rising, may reduce menstrual cramping, can significantly reduce postpartum bleeding, can be combined with angelica root to facilitate delivery of the placenta, and can be employed as a gentle douche for leukorrhea. Raspberry can also be taken in capsule form, but in pregnancy it's very beneficial to hydrate the body regularly, so the preparation of a daily tea is a wise form of consumption.
European raspberry is Rubus idaeus, a common cultivated variety in this country. Other species include Rubus villosus, Rubus leucodermis, and the North American wild raspberry - Rubus strigosus, which, being wild, is generally more potent with a stronger flavor.
Raspberries grow from a perennial root, sending up erect spiny shoots called canes. Raspberry leaves are a bit hairy with irregular, serrated leaf edges; they are distinctly green on the upper side and frosty white underneath. When transplanting, space raspberry canes about 2 feet apart in the early spring in a sunny location. Add lots of compost. The year raspberries are planted they will not usually bear fruit, but with a reasonable amount of care they will provide an abundance of leaves and berries each subsequent summer season thereafter.
In the winter cut back the old cane, and in the early spring keep grass from choking them out. Several plant blights effect raspberries, as well as iron deficiency from over-alkaline soils. Add pine or fir needles or peat moss to lower the soil pH. Alkaline soils result in yellowing in the leaf veins. Funguses can discolor leaves as well. Curling and red and yellow mottling on the leaves can be indicative of mosaic disease. Remove any diseased plants from the patch and destroy.
If you already have access to a patch, harvest the leaves before the plants set flower in mid-spring. Since the berries are highly nutritious and a compliment to any diet, be careful not to harvest too many leaves. Take only a quarter of the leaves from any one cane, to protect plant productivity. Using scissors or spring-action nippers, snip the leaves into a bowl or paper bag. Screen drying is the best option for raspberry leaves, or they may be used fresh. The stalks are left well foliated to produce the berries, which are high in vitamin C and iron. Raspberries are delightfully easy for children to pick for their cereal in the mornings, and make spendid, nutrient-rich jam.
There has been an increase in interest in raspberry leaf and its role in pregnancy and parturition. I discovered midwifery students intent upon researching raspberry usage and outcomes for their master's degree requirements. This represents a sizable gain in the stature of herbs in the scientific/medical model. Midwives in general are becoming more aware of their capacity to heal within the natural world. Raspberry leaves are a mainstay component for pregnant women worldwide with that simple statement: Each one, teach one.