Red Raspberry Leaf in Pregnancy

Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus): Myths & Facts, Safety & Efficacy, Mechanism of Action

Red raspberry leaf tea is perhaps the best-known herbal medicine used in pregnancy. It has a long

Red Raspberry Leaf & Berries

Red Raspberry Leaf & Berries

tradition of use in both Europe and North America.  Many women have heard it is “good for you” and so they drink it.

Did your mom drink it when she was pregnant? Mine did. It is an excellent choice of herbal ally during pregnancy. Considering how useful it is, and how popular, I think it should be better understood.

MYTH: Red raspberry leaf induces labor.

NOT TRUE! NOT TRUE!

Fact: Red raspberry leaf is safe and useful throughout pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters. It does not induce labor.

This misunderstanding stems from the fact that Rubus ideaus is used to prepare for labor. The herb is a wonderfully effective uterine tonic, meaning it has a toning, strengthening, and nourishing effect on the tissue and function of female reproductive tract (Hoffman, 2003).

Via its mineral content (especially calcium) and various polypeptides, it enhances the ability of the uterus to contract when labor begins, and can make labor more efficient.

The herb affects smooth muscles, meaning it has gentle action beyond the uterus in the smooth muscles lining the digestive tract. As a herb for digestion, it is most often used when stool is loose, but can also be part of a formula to address constipation.

Red raspberry leaf is also rich in tannins, lending it a whole other realm of actions. Tannins astringe,

Rubus idaeus

Rubus idaeus

or pull together tissue. Think of the feeling of black tea – also rich in tannins – in your mouth. It is a little bit drying, but also toning & tightening, making it great for skin and mucous membranes. Tannins are a good fit when there is excess fluid, as in diarrhea or certain kinds of gut inflammation, and can also be used to address bleeding. Indeed, a red raspberry leaf mouthwash is used for bleeding gums. Further down in the body, Rubus idaeus tea is used for postpartum uterine bleeding as well as bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

Red raspberry leaf plays a role in supporting fertility as well, as it is thought to help thicken the uterine lining (Gilbert, 2015).

Actions

Uterine Tonic (also tones pelvic floor); Partus preparator; Astringent; Nutritive

Uses

Pregnancy; Fertility; Painful periods; Diarrhea; Constipation (mild); Decreasing excess bleeding (eg postpartum, but also gastrointestinal, as a mouthwash for bleeding gums)

Note: some references list Red Raspberry leaf as a galactagogue, aka promoter of lactation, but this is not a primary action of the herb, and for most folks, not the best herb for this action. The herb is also listed as a nausea treatment in pregnancy, but clinically, nausea would not be my reason to choose Rubus ideaus. The herb may also lower blood sugar if it is elevated, but, again, this is not a primary action of the herb.

What is a partus preparator?

An herbal combination used traditionally to help someone prepare to give birth, usually taken in the last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy. The combination is designed to tonify the uterus, encouraging efficient contractions, as well as being mildly soothing and astringent. While the herbs used vary considerably, common choices include Red Raspberry Leaf, Blue Cohosh, Black Cohosh, Partridge Berry, Cotton Root and Spikenard.

Blue Cohosh in particular does not have a good safety profile. There have been case reports of infants with bleeding in the brain or heart attacks (Romm, 2010) – and this herb should be used only with the advice of a trained herbal clinician.

In fact, modern herbal medicine practitioners are now divided as to the efficacy or necessity of a partus preparator formula, and may prefer to select specific herbs to meet the needs of the individual pregnant client. Many practitioners will use homeopathics and acupuncture rather than a partus preparator formula.

Constituents of Red Raspberry Leaf

Flavonoids, tannins (8-14 %), polypeptides, minerals (eg calcium, iron, phophorus).

Some sources reference an alkaloid, fragrine, but recent research has not confirmed its presence.

Dose

Most commonly taken as a tea: 1 tsp to 2 tbsp per cup, steeped 10 min to overnight depending on desired action. (Longer steeping will result in a stronger medicinal action, as well as higher mineral content). 1-4 cups per day.

Studies have found efficacy with certain extracts in tablet form as well.

Tincture: 2-4 ml (1:5 in 40% alcohol), 3 times per day.

Preparations

Check out this Pregnancy Tonic Tea featuring Red Raspberry & Nettle Leaves.

Or become a kitchen herbalist with this fancy/simple Red Raspberry Leaf Vinegar.

Research

I will refer below only studies on pregnant women, leaving out studies on rats, guinea pigs, cats, rabbits, and isolated uterine muscle as these do not replicate the complex physiology of a pregnant human drinking a herbal infusion.

It is worth noting that from the studies on isolated uterine muscle, red raspberry leaf appears to have a tonic effect – that is, it increases tone of relaxed smooth muscle, and induces relaxation where muscle tone is already high (Mills & Bone, 2005; Mills, Duguoa et al 2006). It is also noteworthy that Rubus ideaus has an apparent relaxing effect on the muscle of the small intestine (specifically the ileum), at least in Guinea pigs (Rojas-Vera J1Patel AVDacke CG, 2002).

Although nearly two thirds of US midwives report prescribing Red Raspberry leaf to their clients red raspberry leaf with teapot(McFarlin et al 1999), and many, many women self prescribe the tea, there have been relatively few human studies.

One randomized controlled trial of 192 women with low-risk single pregnancies compared red raspberry leaf tablets (2 x 1.2 g per day) to placebo from 32 weeks gestation onwards. There were no adverse effects for either mothers or babies.

Those who took the herbal tablets had a shorter second stage of labor, as well as lower rates of forceps delivery (Simpson et al, 2001).

Another study involving 108 women (57 in treatment group, 51 in control group) confirmed that the herb is safe. They also noted lower rates of pre and post-term gestation – meaning fewer babies were born too early or late – as well as less likelihood of obstetric interventions, including caesarian section, and vacuum or forceps delivery (Parsons et al 1999).

Safety & Concerns

Considered safe in pregnancy and while breast-feeding.

Due to the high tannin content, the herb may interfere with absorption of iron and other minerals, similar to black tea. So, take supplemental iron at a different time than you drink your tea. Note that the herb itself contains iron along with other minerals. In balance as they occur in nature, this mineral content is considered well-absorbed.

 

References

 

Boon, Heather & Smith, Michael. 2004. The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to the 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, Inc.

 

Gilbert, Cyndi. 2015. The Essential Guide to Women’s Herbal Medicine. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, Inc.

 

Gladstar, Rosemary. 1993. Herbal Healing for Women. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

 

Hoffmann, David. 2003. Medical Herbalism: The Science & Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, a division of Inner Traditions International.

 

McFarlin B, Gibson M, O’Rear J, Harman P. 1999. A national survey of herbal preparation use by nurse-midwives for labor stimulation. Review of the literature and recommendations for practice. J Nurse Midwifery, 44:205-216.

 

Mills, Simon & Bone, Kerry. 2005. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. St Louis, MO: Elsevier – Churchill Livingstone.

 

Mills, Edward, Dugoa, Jean-Jacques, Perri, Dan, Koren, Gideon. 2006. Herbal Medicines in Pregnancy & Lactation: An Evidence-Based Approach. London & New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

 

Rojas-Vera J1, Patel AVDacke CG. 2002. Relaxant activity of raspberry (Rubus idaeus) leaf extract in guinea-pig ileum in vitro. Phytother Res. Nov;16(7):665-8.

 

Romm, Aviva. 2010. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St Louis, MO: Elsevier – Churchill Livingstone.

 

Simpson M, Parsons M, Greenwood J, Wade K. 2001. Raspberry leaf in pregnancy: its safety and efficacy in labor. J Midwifery Women’s Health, 46:51-59.

 

Weed, Susun. 1986. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing.

 

Wood, Matthew. 2009. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Kitchen Herbalism: Red Raspberry Leaf Vinegar

Red raspberry leaf in spring

Herbal Vinegar in Mason Jar

Herbal Vinegar in Mason Jar

Wildcrafting note:

Raspberry is abundant in wild and semi-wild spaces throughout temperate North America and Europe, and perhaps can be found in your own yard or a local abandoned lot. Ideally harvest the leaves for use before the fruits appear. In the Toronto area, this means later June or early July.

NB: Always be sure to confirm the identity of a plant before harvesting or consuming.

What you’ll need: 

  • Red Raspberry Leaves (fresh or dried)
  • Organic Vinegar (apple cider, wine, or rice)
  • Mason Jar

What to do:

  1. If using fresh leaves, let them wilt and dry out a little before starting and make sure there is no additional moisture (water drops etc) on your leaves.
  2. Fill your clean, DRY jar with raspberry leaves.
  3. Warm vinegar in a non-reactive pot. Pour warmed vinegar of your choice over the leaves, submerging them completely and filling the jar with liquid.
  4. Seal the jar and place in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks.
  5. Strain the vinegar through a cheese cloth or a clean, white cotton cloth.
  6. Rebottle your vinegar (keep bottle out of direct sunlight).
  7. Enjoy! As part of dressing for green, bean, or grain salads or as an aperitif to aid digestion (1 TBSP in a cup of water before meals)

 
WHY red raspberry vinegar:
 
Vinegar is especially valuable for extracting alkaloids, vitamins, and minerals from plants. Vinegar is a good choice for tonic remedies that are intended for regular use over a long period of time to strengthen and build the system. Vinegar extractions can be used by children and are a good choice for adults who avoid alcohol. One tablespoon of this vinegar extract provides about 150-200mg of calcium. And…it’s delicious!

Read here for more about using Red Raspberry Leaf as medicine.

 

Your antacid medication is causing more digestive problems than it solves

Are you taking a drug for your stomach? Chances are, it is a proton-pump inhibitor (PPI), a class of drugs designed to decrease the amount of acid in your stomach. In 2012, 157 million prescriptions were written for PPIs in the US alone, making them the third most commonly prescribed drug. Prevacid, Nexium, and Prilosec are common examples of PPIs. Brilliant, right? Too much acid = pain, so decrease acid, decrease pain. Well… not quite.

You see,

Drugs don’t heal. People heal.

Continue reading

What Can I Do To Prevent Osteoporosis?

  • Eat a variety of vegetables, including dark leafy greens, daily.
  • Avoid anything you are sensitive to – inflammation in the gut decreases absorption of nutrients
  • Manage stress – digestion is dependent on the parasympathetic (aka “rest & digest”) state of the nervous system. This system is responsible for everything from stomach acid production, to enzyme production in the pancreas, to peristalsis in the small intestine. Thus, chronic high stress can lead to decreased nutrient absorption as the parasympathetic nervous system’s actions are inhibited.
  • Be conscious of your acidic food/drink consumption: calcium is used as a buffer in order to keep our blood within its narrow life-sustaining pH range. Drinking acidic sodas or coffee leaches calcium from our bones in order to maintain pH.
  • Weight-bearing Exercise: bones develop strength in response to gravity and pressure. Use it or lose it!
  • Read this for a quick list of nutrients for strong, healthy bones.
  • What about calcium? Here is a list of non-dairy calcium sources.
  • Can’t I just drink milk? Read this and decide.

Certain prescription medications can cause bone loss, or decrease calcium absorption. This group includes corticosteroids like prednisone or Flovent (bone loss), and proton pump inhibitors, a class of medications for decreasing stomach acid, like Losec or Nexxium (decreased absorption). If you are taking such a medication, talk to your health care team about how to protect your bones.

“I drink milk for my bones”

 Dr Mahalia Freed ND, nutritional myth-buster

I regularly encounter the myth that we need dairy products for healthy bones. My clients tell me they don’t want to give up dairy, as osteoporosis runs in their family. Or, they tell me, “I don’t want to do that to my kids”.

Let me set the record straight: you don’t need milk products for healthy bones!

Adults don’t need dairy, kids don’t need dairy.

But, don’t I need calcium? Don’t my kids need calcium?

Yup. And many other minerals.

You don’t need milk products to get calcium!

As stated by researchers in a recent (July 2013) editorial in JAMA Paediatrics, “Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk, an evolutionarily recent addition to diet.”

But I thought I needed milk products for healthy bones!

Throughout the world, bone fracture rates tend to be lower in countries that do not consume milk compared with those that do. Moreover, milk consumption does not protect against fracture in adults, according to a recent meta-analysis” (Ludwig D and Willett W. 2013).

Furthermore, “Milk consumption increases serum concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-1, an anabolic hormone linked to prostate and other cancers” (ibid). Why increase cancer risk? Or the risk of type 1 diabetes, also associated with dairy intake?

Ludwig and Willett conclude: “For those with high quality diets (including green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and adequate protein), the nutritional benefits of high milk consumption may not outweigh the negative consequences.”

Milk, it doesn’t necessarily do your body good. You don’t need it, and neither do your kids.

More info on bones, calcium, and health:

What do I do for healthy bones?

Where (else) can I get calcium?

Healthy bones need which nutrients?