Beyond the sweet, juicy berries that everyone knows and loves, there’s a lot more to learn about Rubus idaeus, the plant more commonly known as red raspberry. The “rubus” refers of course to the ruby hue of the fruit, but the “idaeus” speaks to this plant’s ancient roots. Named for Mt. Ida, significant in Greek mythology, this tenacious bramble bush has been used for both culinary delights and herbal remedies for centuries. All parts of the plant have applications in folk healing, and many of these uses are still practiced today.
While it’s the fruit of Rubus idaeus that gets most of the attention, it’s the leaves that have the most significance in herbal medicine. Tea made from raspberry leaves is said to cure colds, fevers, and alleviate menstrual cramps. Steep one teaspoon of dried raspberry leaves in one cup of boiling water, let steep for 15 minutes and then strain. Taken cold, raspberry leaf tea is a cure for diarrhea and for upset stomach. A fun alternative is to make raspberry tea ice pops.
The well-known berries of Rubus idaeus are most commonly used in culinary applications such as desserts, but they also have some healing properties as well. Vinegar made from red raspberries, when used as a gargle, can cure a sore throat. To make your own, put one quart of raspberries in a non-reactive pot and, stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat, then strain through two layers of cheese cloth. Don’t press the fruit as you strain it, however; just allow the juices to drain through. Let the juice stand for 60 minutes, then add two cups of white wine vinegar and two tablespoons of sugar. Adding a tablespoon or two to a glass of water can help to bring down a fever, or toss it with your salad for a sweet and sour dressing.
It’s hard to imagine the thorny canes of Rubus idaeus doing anything but causing pain, but according to folklore, rubbing them on achy joints was actually thought to reduce the discomfort. This was done after the thorns were removed of course! In the Philippines, certain native peoples believe that hanging the canes outside your home will offer protection by snagging any evil spirits that try to enter.
Growing Rubus idaeus is easy, but because of the canes, controlling it is not. When a cane arches over and the tip touches the ground it will root and send out a new shoot from that spot. This is why raspberry bushes become such a thorny bramble; they can leapfrog several feet at a time if you’re not careful. Tie them to a vertical structure, such as a few lengths of twine strung between two posts. to keep them in check.
Because of Rubus idaeus’ traditional association with pregnancy, it has been called “the woman’s herb,” but women who are pregnant or nursing may want to avoid use unless under the strict monitoring of a qualified health professional. While said to ease morning sickness, cramps, and facilitate easy childbirth, it can act as estrogen in your system and cause complications instead. Others suffering from conditions that are affected by higher levels of estrogen (such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer) should also avoid taking Rubus idaeus. Always talk to a doctor before employing herbal remedies.