First recorded in the 1500s, red raspberry leaf tea (Rubus ideas) has been used for centuries in Europe, China, and both North and South America. This popular tea has earned the reputation of "herb-supreme" amongst pregnant women. According to folklore it can relieve almost any discomfort of pregnancy from morning sickness to leg cramps. And there may be good reason for its reputation.
Raspberry Leaf Tea is very high in an assortment of nutrients including calcium, iron, and B vitamins, all of which are very important during pregnancy. The herb also contains a variety of chemicals -most of which have yet to be identified- that produce a direct effect on the pregnant uterus. They have been shown to strengthen the uterine wall, relax smooth muscle, and help to make delivery easier and speedier by helping the uterus contract more efficiently.
Historically women have taken raspberry leaf tea throughout their pregnancies up to and including childbirth. Many mothers extol this herb's ability to make childbirth easier and less painful. In a letter to the editor of the medical journal The Lancet, Dr. Violet Russel wrote "somewhat shamefacedly I have encouraged expectant mothers to drink this infusion. In a great many cases labour has been free and easy from muscular spasm."
Some women also drink the tea throughout their labour, or suck on frozen cubes made beforehand. It reportedly helps expel the placenta, and its nutritional value is thought to be responsible for encouraging and enriching the mother's breastmilk. Many women continue to drink the tea long after childbirth as it is thought to help restore the reproductive system and continue to help nourish the new mother.
Studies have not yet been done to give us statistical data on the use of raspberry leaf tea, but as more women and health professionals discover its potential, its popularity will surely continue to grow. This is one herb that all pregnant women should have in their cupboards!
NOTE: Some medical and popular media make reference to raspberry leaf tea as something to avoid during pregnancy for risk of miscarriage. This notion stems from a study conducted in 1954 where fractions were isolated from Rubus sp. and applied in vitro to the uterine tissues of guinea pigs and frogs. The scientists discovered such things as one fraction acted as a spasmolytic whereas another caused uterine contractions. Herein lies the risk of isolating the parts of a whole. When used as a whole plant, neither action is exacerbated and the herb is deemed safe. If a mother is prone to miscarriages she may feel safer avoiding raspberry until the third trimester. This is an herb with centuries of safe use behind it, there is usually little cause for concern.
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C.J. Briggs and K. Briggs, Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal, April 1997
Rosemary Gladstar, Herbal Healing for Women
Richard Mabey, The New Age Herbalist: How to Use Herbs for Healing, Nutrition, Body Care, and Relaxation
Susun S. Weed, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year
Joy Gardner, Healing Yourself During Pregnancy, The Crossing Press, 1987
Aviva Jill Romm The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition, and Other Holistic Choices