Raspberry: The Astringent Leaf

2011

From the 19th century, the authors recommend use of raspberry leaf and for this we need to discuss the concept of astringency. Samuel Thomson (1832) recounts how he was in Eastport, Maine looking for an astringent herb and discovered raspberry by taste. He describes suitable astringents if chewed as leaving the mouth feeling clean, but not rough and dry. Raspberry is native throughout North America and Thomson later made it his main astringent. Astringents were the basis of No. 3, the third stage in a Thomsonian course of treatment. The sequence in the course of treatment was to use lobelia Lobelia inflata as an emetic, followed by cayenne Capsicum annuum to heat and then astringents to heal the tissues. The third stage was designed to cleanse the stomach and bowels of ‘canker’, thus fully resolving the disease process. The aim was to ‘scour the stomach, promote perspiration, repel the cold’. Thomson defined canker as ‘the coating which prevents the resolution of disease as it prevents the little vessels working’ which is caused by cold overcoming the natural heat of the body. Haller (2000) describes canker as ‘the term both regulars and sectarians used to refer to the hard, greyish substance that lined the stomach and intestines in the state of disease’. This was ascribed to cold, which leads to a vitiated state of the secretions which become thicker and harder and so prevent the proper absorption of food.

Thomson claims that raspberry ‘…answered every purpose wished. I gathered a large quantity of the leaves, and dried them, and have been in constant use of it as a medicine ever since, and have found it an excellent article, both for canker and many other complaints’. He found it the best remedy he had used for loose bowels in children as a tea and as an enema. Cook makes the point that as it is soothing to the stomach, it is useful in nausea and vomiting but also has a mild action which lessens diarrhoea and subacute dysentery without being too abrupt. This is similar to the earlier recommendation in ‘queasy stomachs’, a term which remains in common parlance but not in medical terminology. Coffin recommends raspberry for dysentery and instead of ordinary tea or coffee for chronic diarrhoea and claims that ‘the patient need never be afraid of taking too much’. Fox recommends a strong infusion for looseness of bowels and summer complaints of children. Hool takes up the connection of diarrhoea with infection and claims that it is ‘invaluable for removing canker, from the mucous surfaces of the body, cleansing the system of all filthy material, gives nature the opportunity to bring about complete restoration of health.’ He uses it for diarrhoea in children, fevers, measles, smallpox, chickenpox and dysentery but also in children to temper a more laxative medicine. Grieve claims that it ‘never fails to give immediate relief in cold and extreme laxity of bowels. A review of the use of raspberry by 16 Members of the National Association of Medical Herbalists notes its tonic and mild astringent action in gastric atony, white furred tongue, summer diarrhoea and atonic bowel in children. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia gives the main action of raspberry as astringent indicated for diarrhoea, with agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria and wood avens Geum urbanum. Priest & Priest describe it as a mild soothing astringent tonic which allays nausea, sustains the nerves and tones mucous membranes. Wren refers to the summer complaints of children. Menzies-Trull advises larger doses where an antidiarrhoeal action is sought. He advises it in relaxed intestine with diarrhoea, dysentery, gastrointestinal haemorrhage and for diverticular disease with agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria and marshmallow Althaea officinalis. Hoffmann gives the above indications and includes too the bark of bramble root for diarrhoea in adults and children and as an external remedy.

External usage continues to be recommended highly by later authors. Thomson recommends a tea of raspberry for sore nipples, with the addition of slippery elm Ulmus rubra if very sore. Coffin states that it is unequalled for removing scurf or canker from tongue. Skelton (1853) advises washing the mouth with a tea three to four times a day for oral thrush in infants. Wren advises an infusion of leaves or fruits as a gargle for sore mouth and ‘canker of the throat’. Preparations recommended by herbalists include a gargle for stomatitis, laryngitis and a wash for tonsillitis. Priest & Priest suggest a gargle with dilute vinegar in sore throat and hoarseness. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia advises a mouthwash for tonsillitis with sage Salvia officinalis and a lotion for conjunctivitis with eyebright, Euphrasia species.

Recommendations

• Brambles have a substantial traditional usage as an astringent for digestive tract problems and externally for healing inflammation and wounds. Although the authors find the herbs similar, it may be that bramble is more astringent and styptic. The external usage of powdered bramble leaf for spreading, cancerous sores deserves further investigation.

Raspberry leaves are considered mild and useful for diarrhoea, especially in children.

• Leaves of both are recommended for oral thrush, mouth ulcers and gum infections. This recommendation dates back to Pliny and raspberry could be used more in these indications.

• Raspberry fruit cordials and vinegar remain in popular usage and are examples of the close association between use of plants as foods and as medicinal herbs. Raspberry syrups provide a useful vehicle for remedies for the respiratory and upper respiratory tract as in the example given by Fox.

• Raspberry is widely used to prepare for birth, and could be used more under the supervision of midwives in the management of normal pregnancy as proposed by Thomson and Coffin.

Dosage: the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recommends 4-8 g three times a day. Braun & Cohen (2005) recommend use in the last 6-8 weeks of pregnancy and this appears a sensible compromise.