If you’ve been to a natural food store, you’ve probably seen boxes of raspberry leaf tea sitting on a shelf. You may of looked at that box and read words like “uterine tonic”, or “pregnancy tonic”. Perhaps you even tried the delicately sweet, slightly sour and astringent (but mostly just…green tasting) member of the rose family.
Raspberry leaf is a perfect tonic for during pregnancy. Generally, it is demulcent (soothing to tissues), astringent, tonic to smooth muscles (especially uterus and large intestine). Since it is rich in vitamins and minerals, raspberry is a well-known nutritive herb. It is also helpful as an astringent tonic is excessive urination and diarrhea, and when the uterus and bladder feel heavy or prolapsed. Raspberry’s more thorny cousin blackberry is one of the most effective remedies for diarrhea for whatever the cause, in childhood contagious bugs, food poising, traveler’s diarrhea, or digestive diseases. It is a good thing to have in your globe trotting first-aid kit – and it’s cheaper and easier on the body then antibiotics.
Raspberry leaf has been used for hundreds of years during and after pregnancy. It can reduce morning sickness in the early months of pregnancy, and can also be helpful in arresting post-partum bleeding. Australian nurse-practitioner Ruth Tricky says that researchers “…suggested that Rubus would prevent or reduce the risk of in-coordinate uterine action (a common cause of difficulty and failure to progress in labor), by regulating the action of the uterine muscles.” (Tricky, 423).
To use raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy, start drinking it after the first trimester. Don’t hesitate–steep strong! One tea bag in one cup of hot water steeped 10 minuets is definitely not going to have the same effect as a medicinally prepared tea. Dried raspberry is quite fluffy, so go more for a fourth or third cup of the dried herb steeped, covered, in 3-4 cups hot water for 2 – 4 hours. Strain and drink daily. Blend with other nutritious tonic herbs like nettle, oatstraw, or alfalfa if desired. Midwife Aviva Romm suggest drinking the tea with a slice of fresh orange or lemon, since the vitamin C of the citrus will increase the rate of absorption of the vitamins and minerals in raspberry leaf tea (iron, for one).
Tonic seems like a quint word of Victorian yesteryear, but it is used often in herbalism. Tonics are called so because they tone or strengthen a body system(s) or the body as a whole over a period of time. To be considered a tonic, an herb usually has a medium to high nutritive profile (like nettle, for instance) and must be safe and mild enough to take everyday indeterminately. Another important feature of tonics are that they seem to have a rich ethnobotanical history of use. Basically, they have been safely used by people for hundreds or thousands of years.
As far I know, every herbal system has tonics, but Chinese medicine has a disproportionate amount of tonics to offer. Ginseng, He-Shou-Wu, Dang Qui, and Astragalus are a few examples. From Roy Upton:
”Chinese herbal medicine has long revered the use of herbal tonics to promote health, longevity, and counter the effects of aging. The highest ideal of Chinese medicine is to promote the highest level of health for the longest period of time, in contrast to simply applying herbs or therapies for the treatment of disease”(124, Medicines from the Earth 2006).
There are many types of tonics; lung tonics, uterine tonics, cardiotonics and so on. Herbs that are used as tonics also have other uses. For example, cordyceps is a yang tonic used to increase warmth, energy and growth when deficient, but is also used for restoring adrenal activity, strengthening the immune system and enhancing athletic output. As you can see, the underlying tonic action is often related to the short term uses of the herb.
There are a few similarities tonics share with each other, but we can’t overgeneralize their actions. Some are astringent (raspberry leaf, a uterine tonic), some are adaptogenic, others are nutritive. Here are a few examples: Schisandra, reishi and shiitake mushrooms, milky oats, licorice, raspberry leaf, alfalfa, astragalus, red clover, licorice, ashwaganda, skullcap, motherwort, linden, hawthorn, gingko.
It may seem that herbal tonics might not be strong action or illicit marked change in the body because they are food-like, relatively safe in large and continual doses (1-4 cups of tea a day for a year or more), and act generally to promote health. This is definitely not the case. Each of these herbs (even alfalfa or raspberry leaf) have their unique medicinal actions. It is through understanding the action and energetic details (like its taste or temperature) of the plant that can help you find the herbal tonic right for you.
Romm, Aviva Jill. The Natural Pregnancy Book.
Tricky, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.