Raspberry Leaf – An Herbal Tonic

February 22nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

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.

Sources:

Romm, Aviva Jill. The Natural Pregnancy Book.

Tricky, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.

Raspberry Leaf – Rubus ideaeus

August 5th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Raspberry leaf, Rubus idaeus and wild species. Raspberry’s astringency, nutritive and tonic qualities lead to being well-known as a woman’s herb, especially during pregnancy. A hot cup of tea made from the dried leaves is quite pleasant with honey, or blended with other herbs. I do not have an exact quote on this (my copy of her pregnancy book is out on loan), but I think it was Aviva Romm that mentioned something about drinking raspberry leaf tea with a juice from a fresh-squeezed orange. Not only does that sound delicious, but it adds to the vitamin C content as well.Raspberries in Lincoln Park

What makes raspberry leaf so toning besides it’s obvious astringency? One known chemical constituent that lends to this is fragarine. Fragarine is an alkaloid that has been long linked to raspberries toning action.  I say ‘been linked’ because there are many other properties/constituents in raspberry, like the flavonoid quercitin, tannins, vitamins and minerals (it is very high in manganese), ect… From Herbal Amanda’s Rant blog:

“Fragarine was thought to be the ‘active’ constituent of raspberry leaf, the one that cause uterine muscle tissues to strengthen, but it is now postulated that is a more complex reaction that isn’t due to any one constituent, but a combination of many. This particular conclusion seems to be more and more excepted for most herbal medicines, as main constituents are usually found to not work, or have different actions when isolated.”

This makes perfect sense.

Strawberries! mmmNeed astringency for excessive menstruation? How about a cup or two or four of raspberry leaf tea drank as needed, combined with other herbs as desired (I love shepherd’s purse and lady’s mantle for this) or over many months as a tonic. That is a beautiful choice since raspberry can boost some of the nutrients lost from the lots of bleeding, as well as tone pelvic muscles, including the uterus. It has also been used for painful cramps, too, although it may be best combined with stronger spasmolytics. Don’t forget to use raspberry after pelvic surgeries or any kind as a general healing tonic.

When used for labor, raspberry has both uterine relaxing and contraction inhibiting actions, which seems contradictory. In 1970 the leaf (not only fragarine) was tested, and the 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 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 herbs like nettle, oatstraw, or alfalfa if desired.

Strawberry leaf, Fragaria vesica. Let’s not forget the beautiful strawberry leaves, which have a similar sweet but astringent taste. I like making a lunar infusion of fresh strawberry leaves, covering a small handful of the leaves with water and letting steep over night.

Strawberry leaves are not used as much as raspberry, and thus not mentioned in the herbals as much either. I guess this makes sense, especially looking around in the woods. Raspberries are everywhere, spreading like mad, while little strawberry plants are much less conspicuous and have just a few leaves to each plant. And thus, it’s uses are often lumped with raspberry.

It’s astringent, cooling (as a member of the rose family), and nutritive. Rosemary Gladstar says “it can be combined with raspberry leaf and squaw vine for an exceptional tonic blend to drink during the entire pregnancy” (178).

Culpepper speaks of the cooling nature of strawberry:

“The leaves and roots boiled in wine and water, and drank, do likewise cool the liver and blood, and assuage all inflammations in the reins and bladder, provoke urine, and allay the heat and sharpness thereof. The same also being drank stays the bloody flux and women’s courses, and helps the swelling of the spleen.”

References:

Culpepper, Nicolas. http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/frameset.html

Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women.
Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal.
Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.
Weed, Susun. Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal (Old World)

Motherwort – Leonurus cardiaca

May 26th, 2008 § 5 comments § permalink

motherwort.jpgDo you see the motherwort in this picture? Hint: its vertical. Mmmm…Motherwort! I have been craving the bitter herb for a steady week running – and as a tea! Who in their right mind drinks motherwort infusion? Someone who needs it, or who likes the bitter zing. Have you ever eaten a motherwort flower? Try it, I dare you. I have been drinking motherwort infusion to calm my critical and exacting PMS self to a down to a low roar; its working quite well. It is also nourishing, stockpiling nutrients that will soon be shed; for this purpose I add a bit of nettle or oat straw. At this time in my cycle I tend to see things very clearly, which can either enrich my life with wise insight or keep me up at night ruminating. Motherwort, along with hops, eases my mind.

In the middle of winter, I dream of a sunny day and a garden full of motherwort. There is something very awakening and attracting about the upright member of the mint family. A friend once became very aquatinted with a particular motherwort plant and described her as juicy. I have yet to have a garden full of motherwort, as my seeds never seem to germinate. This year I am trying really hard to get my seeds sprouted…so wish me luck.

Motherwort promotes menstruation, reduces nervous tension and cramps, and is regulating to stress and anxiety caused heart problems, racing and/or irregular heartbeat (tachycardia). Culpepper says about motherwort, “Venus owns this herb and it is under Leo. There is no better herb to drive melancholy vapors from the heart, to strengthen it and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry”. Yes, motherwort is warming in taste and even color with the sweet downy pink with white whorls of flowers, soothing to the heart and demanding emotions, and a wonderful ally for women of all ages and at all times of their cycles. The way it stands in the garden, attracting bees like mad, reminds me of an seemingly innocent attention-seeking amorous Leo. Well, not that innocent, if you have ever been tangled amongst their sharp seed pods at the end of the season!

It is called Ectes Herzgespann in German, which in an excruciatingly literal translation is “common heart team”; luckily a German woman described it to me as meaning “it pulls the heart forward, as one would lead a team of yoked oxen”. What a wonderful way to visualize this herb’s actions. Like many herbs, motherwort contains a myriad of chemical compounds that give rise to its unique uses. From its taste we know that it works on the digestion; Tierra says it is specifically a carminative. The tannins make it astringent to the uterus, and according to Wikipedia, “the herb contains the alkaloid leonurine, which is a mild vasodilator and has a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles. For this reason, it has long been used as a cardiac tonic, nervine, and as an emmenagogue.”

As an emmenagogue, I view it as enriching the blood and circulating it, rather than starting delayed menstruation, as the latter has never worked for me. It still has an important pre-menstrual use of allying stress, anger and rage, worrying that keeps you up at night, and anxious palpitations. Stress and anxiety keeping your period away? Try motherwort. Motherwort may be helpful include during the last few weeks of pregnancy to promote uterine tone. Ruth Trickey states in Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle that motherwort “is one of the many herbs which posses the apparently contradictory actions of relieving spasm and stimulating uterine activity–an effect which seems to be brought about by a reduction in the irritability (spasticity) of the uterine muscle. This allows contractions to be followed by an adequate rest period when blood can circulate through the muscle again”(470). Of course, motherwort is useful for peri-menopausal women, adressing palpitations, night sweats and worrying keeping you up at night, Trickey combines hops, motherwort and black cohosh for this reason with “excellent results”.

References:

Tierra, Micheal. Planetary Herbology.

Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motherwort

Culpepper’s Complete Herbal. http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/frameset.html

Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.

Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal.

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