Part used: leaves, fruits
The Rubus genus is large and diverse and Flora Europaea lists 75 species. It includes deciduous or semi-evergreen perennial herbs or shrubs, which are often spiny with a characteristic fruit formed of a head of one-seeded drupelets. The genus is divided into subgenera of which the largest, Rubus, contains the brambles and blackberries.
Rubus idaeus L. is in the Idaeobatus subgenus, which has biennial stems and a fruit that separates from the convex receptacle when ripe. It is a very hardy perennial found throughout temperate Eurasia and North America but only found on mountains in southern Europe.
Large stands (to 10 m2) of erect stems, which are rough or smooth with weak prickles bear ovate, pinnate leaves with three to seven leaflets, which are white and tomentose on the underside. The perennial rootstock sends out biennial stems, which produce leaves in the first year and flowering side shoots in the second year. Racemes of five-petalled white flowers (4-7 mm) occur in summer. The fruit is usually red but rarely yellow and separates from the receptacle at maturity. The fruit is an aggregate of drupelets each containing a small seed. Raspberry is propagated vegetatively or by seed.
Other species used
Bramble Rubus fruticosa is a largely apomictic species with over 400 microspecies. Hybrids occur with Rubus idaeus and dewberry Rubus caesius, of which some have developed into new species. The American red raspberry occurs throughout North America and is considered either as a separate species, Rubus strigosa Michx. or as a subspecies, Rubus idaeus L. subsp. strigosa (Michx.) Focke (USDA 2009).
Raspberry leaves can be collected from wild stands or cultivars. In a study of 13 cultivars, the concentration of tannins and ellagic acid in the leaves was found to be highest in the cultivar Tulameen, which is also a good cropper over a long season. A study of samples from 78 sites in Scotland found that plants from higher altitudes in the glens tended to be shorter and to flower later, but there was substantial variation in characteristics between all the populations. The raspberry has been domesticated for fruit production and there are many cultivars. Stands in the wild may be escapes from cultivation but a study of 103 samples from seven sites in Tayside, Scotland, which is a centre of raspberry cultivation, suggested that interbreeding between wild and cultivated plants is limited.
The epicuticular leaf waxes vary and their composition may be associated with resistance to the large raspberry aphid Amphorophora idaei, which is the main vector for viruses that infect raspberry leaves. Aphid-resistant cultivars should be chosen for cultivation of leaves.
Raspberry is mainly used as an astringent, both internally and externally, and is often used alongside other astringent plants. Raspberry leaf is commonly used by herbalists today but bramble Rubus fruticosus is more commonly discussed by the authors. Sometimes the recommendations for each plant cannot be separated, especially as the part used may be leaf, aerial parts, including stems, flower, unripe fruit and ripe fruit, or root. Raspberry is notable in that it is widely self-prescribed in preparation for childbirth. This usage is first given by Thomson and this tradition will be discussed as well as more recent research into the use of raspberry for this purpose. Raspberry vinegar is a traditional remedy which uses the fruits and usage of the fruit will be included.
That the genus includes many similar species was recognized by Theophrastus. Mattioli cites Theophrastus as stating that some grow in the woods and others on the mountains and some grow like trees, some grow to a height, others are entwined in hedges, fences and bushes, and some creep on the ground and strike roots like grass. These features are similar to those given in a modern review. Dioscorides (IV 38) refers to the Idaian bramble, raspberry, as used for similar indications as bramble (IV 37) and describes it as softer and with or without prickles. Theophrastus makes 22 references to Mount Ida in northwestern Turkey and to information given him by local people. He spent 3 years (347-344 BC) with Aristotle in the coastal city of Assos, which is very close to the mountain. According to Thanos (2001) he refers mainly to trees but unfortunately not to Rubus idaeus.
Recommendations On Safety
Monitor use in pregnancy.
No safety concerns are documented for raspberry, but the evidence on usage and dosage in preparation for birth is discussed above. Use of raspberry in pregnancy appears to be safe as it is used by large numbers of women, and it is compatible with breastfeeding.
The descriptions of Dioscorides show that he was referring to two species of Rubus. Dioscorides states that the Idaian bramble can treat the same conditions as bramble, including use of the flower in wine for diarrhoea, but that the flowers are far more useful than those of bramble for eye inflammation when macerated with oil and smeared on the eye. This poses the question of whether Dioscorides was referring to Rubus idaeus, which has small white flowers, or a bramble or raspberry with larger flowers. Pliny states that the Idaian bramble was so-called because no other grows on Mount Ida. He describes it as more delicate than other brambles, smaller, with canes further apart and less prickly, and growing under the shade of trees. His list of indications, which includes the flower with honey for discharges from fluxes of the eye and erysipelas and as a drink in water for a disordered stomach, reads similarly to that of Dioscorides. They appear to have used the same source, so we have no evidence that either of them visited Mount Ida and saw the bramble. Historians continue to rely on the work of Wellmann (1889), who argued that Dioscorides and Pliny had used a common source, probably Sextius Niger, who was a Roman writing in Greek in the 1st century AD. Stannard (1965) supports this by showing, as we have found, that their accounts, while similar, are not identical, which suggests that each author chose different points from the same text.
Later authors debated the identity of the Idaian bramble. Turner dwells at length on the statement of Dioscorides that raspberry grows abundantly on Mount Ida. He discusses Mattioli’s commentary on Dioscorides and Mattioli’s comments on other authors. The point at issue is whether raspberry grows only on Mount Ida or plentifully on Mount Ida but also in other places. Turner describes raspberry growing in many gardens in England, in the wild in the high hills above Bonn in Germany and in East Friesland, Holland. Turner and Mattioli both discuss the meaning of the Latin text and Turner suggests that Mattioli wrongly argues that the correct species grows only on Mount Ida. However, the edition of Mattioli which we have used only records the opinion of Dioscorides and Pliny that it grows plentifully on Mount Ida.
In the same section, Mattioli comments on another plant as he discusses a type of Rubus called ‘ampomele’, which has red berries not unlike strawberries and is found in the mountains and eaten by bears. It has ‘no small bones inside’, which can be read as no seeds inside. He states that there are recent authors who think this species is for certain the Idaian bramble but there is no firm evidence to confirm or disprove the claim. One wonders whether this could be an alpine strawberry Fragaria vesca and have been chosen because botanists were searching for a plant associated with mountains. In fact, Mattioli wonders whether the word ‘idaean’ is used by Dioscorides to refer to mountains rather than just Mount Ida. It could be that this is solved by a note in Tutin et al (1968), which states that in southern Europe Rubus idaeus grows only on mountains. So, Dioscorides and Pliny take care to associate raspberry with mountains, whereas the Renaissance authors question this as they observe that raspberry grows more widely. For example, Gerard describes it as growing in gardens and has seen it growing wild near Harwood in Lancashire. To conclude, there appears to be no evidence of use of Rubus idaeus before the Renaissance whereas there is evidence for the use of bramble Rubus fruticosus. One of the most delightful illustrations in the Juliana Anicia Codex is of a robust and very prickly bramble. This version of Dioscorides is now kept in Vienna but was copied and given to the imperial princess luliana Anicia in gratitude for the building of a church in Constantinople in about 512 AD.
The debate illustrates the struggles for the early botanists who had limited means of transport, poor maps and few reference books. Pavord (2005) gives a vivid account of the adventures of Thomas lohnson in 1629 as his group was caught in a storm on a boat trip from London into Kent to identify the wild flora. This trip occurred almost 2000 years after Theophrastus made his trips up Mount Ida. Yet it is hard for the reader today to imagine trips made without the aid of trains, cars and maps. Botanical identification of wild plants remains a challenge today even when coloured drawings, photographs, herbarium samples and reference books have been consulted. Rubus remains a problematic genus and botanists still do not agree on classification in this genus as phylogenetic studies of Rubus have led to different approaches to the subdivisions and number of species of bramble.
A further complication arises in that there are two mountains called Mount Ida, the name denoting a densely wooded mountain. One is in Crete and one is south of Troy, in northwest Turkey. Mount Ida in northwest Turkey has mythological associations. It was the place where Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, had to make his famous judgement and choose between the beauty of three goddesses: Athena, Aphrodite and Hera, the wife of Zeus. Paris chose Aphrodite, who promised him Helen the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. The ensuing abduction of Helen led to the Trojan war. Zeus is said to have watched the siege of Troy from the mountain top, while the slopes provided the wood for the Trojan horse and for the ships in which Aeneas and his followers escaped. This story from far distant times weaves between gods and mortals, but it reminds us how some of the Latin words which we use to describe plants give a window into history.
Constituents (Raspberry Leaves)
Reviews: Barnes et al (2007), Bradley (2006), Braun & Cohen (2005), Patel et al (2004), Williamson (2003).
Total 4.6% (mean), maximum 6.9% in cv. Tulameen (1 wild, 12 cultivars, Poland). 0.5-1.2% phenolic compounds (41 samples, wild, Lithuania). Samples were taken from April to November but concentration did not correlate with season.
Ellagic acid 3.18% (mean), maximum 4.2% in cv. Tulameen (1 wild, 12 cultivars, Poland). Ellagitannins: sanguiin H6, lambertianin C, lambertianin D.