Found: Wild Raspberry Leaf and Pokémon

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Wild red raspberries, a.k.a. Rubus idaeus, at Maxwell Falls, CO

This past weekend I decided I wanted to go for a hike to Maxwell Falls in Conifer, a pretty mountain town about thirty minutes outside of Denver. I’d never been there before, I just thought it sounded fun. Like any good Millennial, I trusted the online reviews of my peers and convinced my husband it would be a fun morning hike with the reward of seeing a waterfall at the end. It is also a Poké Stop. So, if you’re playing Pokémon Go…

Although it was crowded and steep, it was a GORGEOUS place and an herb-gatherer’s paradise. In particular, the trail was covered with wild red raspberries. Though most of the berries were not ripe enough to eat yet (that usually happens in mid-August or so), I did take the opportunity to gather a few of the prickly leaves. This is another herb I recommend for beginners. Everyone knows what a raspberry looks like, but if you don’t see any berries yet, the leaves are still easy to identify. They are spade-shaped (like the spade on a playing card) and a yellow green color on the front, silver-green on the back. The leaves have “toothed edges” as well. The stems are covered with small thorns-annoying, but not so bad you can’t pick them with your bare hands. When in doubt, just wait for the fruit. Then you know for sure what you are picking. Here is a botanical for your reference:

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Raspberry leaf has a long history of use as a women’s tonic, especially in the facilitation of childbirth. Its popularity in folk medicine has spawned numerous scientific studies into its efficacy and safety.

Several of the studies I found centered around the claim that taking raspberry leaf tea at the end of pregnancy will shorten labor. It seems this particular claim has not yet been proven, but there has been a surprising incidental finding that I feel keeps the herb in the winner’s circle: a double-blind study (Simpson et al, 2001) of 192 low-risk women who were given raspberry leaf tablets from the 32nd week onward of their pregnancy had a significantly reduced incidence of forceps delivery (19.3% vs 30.4%). Additional studies have shown that ingestion of the leaf may reduce the need in general for assisted delivery, to include not only forceps but cesarean, vacuum, and rupture of membranes as well (Parsons et al, 1999). Not bad!

I love scientific studies. I tend to include relevant ones in each of my posts because I find it interesting to try to flush out a reason behind a particular herb’s efficacy. But as I mentioned previously in my post, Review of The Three C’s, my ability to interpret such studies is limited. And sometimes there just isn’t a known reason for why an herb works-it just does. In the case of natural medicine, I feel anecdotal evidence can be just as valuable as a peer-reviewed study, if not more-so. So while there have been no definitive studies as to the efficacy of raspberry leaf in easing childbirth, I doubt generations of women have been wrong. At the very least, a cup of raspberry leaf tea is soothing and sweet and full of vitamins, including Calcium, Magnesium, and Iron.

So next time you go raspberry-picking, don’t skip the leaves. They dry quickly on a tray in a sunny spot and can then be saved in an airtight jar for, like, ever. Just put a teaspoon or so in 8 oz of boiling water, steep for five minutes, and add some honey. Fragrant, sweet, and nourishing.

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Raspberry leaves drying on a tray near my window

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