Raspberry leaf - relaxing, nourishing and cleansing

Raspberry leaf is a passable substitute for black tea. It doesn't have the caffeine, of course, but while you have to be careful with the dosage of many medicinal herbs, this is one herb you can drink--and rather enjoy--every day if you want to. 

That doesn't mean it's without medicinal benefits, however. The leaf of the red raspberry bush (both the garden and wild varieties) is used for disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, such as diarrhea, for the flu and other viral infections affecting the respiratory system, for fever, for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as for heart disease and diabetes. 

Creative Commons image by Patrick Cain 

Creative Commons image by Patrick Cain 

Due to its mild and generally nourishing effects, raspberry leaf is consumed in large quantities when medicinal benefits are desired and is usually a secondary herb to support others. It is also considered a good herb for clearing up skin problems caused by a build up of toxic heavy metals and other inorganic compounds in the body. As a detox herb, it is often combined with nettles, but unlike nettle it is beneficial to those with anemia and does not have the side effect of stripping iron from the blood. 

The most important benefit of raspberry leaf is probably it's simple nutritional value. It is high in vitamins and minerals. A cold infusion of the herb is packed with magnesium, potassium, iron and b-vitamins which may explain some of its benefits during pregnancy, including .reducing nausea and leg cramps, as well as improving sleep. 

Many herbalists recommend raspberry leaf as a "women's herb" and there is evidence that it has been used by many cultures to give pregnant and menstruating women a boost . The  nutrients in raspberry leaf give specific benefits to the female reproductive system. Raspberry leaf strengthens the uterus and pelvic muscles which some midwives believe leads to shorter and easier labors. The astringent compounds in raspberry leaf may be responsible for this benefit, causing lax tissues to become firm. This can be helpful in case of uterine prolapse or extensive cramps.

Some women report that raspberry leaf tea can help with painful or heavy periods. Even if it doesn't lessen a heavy period in all patients, it can help to avoid the anemia that may result from excessive menstruation. 

Women wishing to conceive often use raspberry leaf, as many herbalists believe it "tones the uterus." Others use it to mitigate morning sickness in early pregnancy, though some practitioners fear that it could cause hormonal shifts that might slightly increase the chance of a miscarriage.

Creative Commons image by Tatters of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Tatters of Flickr.com

There is little evidence for a link to miscarriage and other herbalists use raspberry leaf to prevent miscarriage. However, in this arena any suspicion is usually grounds for banning an herb or any other substance during early pregnancy. As a result midwives often recommend drinking raspberry leaf tea only in the last month or two of pregnancy, when it's benefits to the uterus and in easing birth can be obtained without any potential risk of miscarriage. 

While there is some controversy about the timing and dosage of raspberry leaf during pregnancy, midwives and many doctors are in agreement that after the birth raspberry leaf tea has extensive benefits, helping to mitigate bleeding and swelling as well as to restore muscle tone. The high nutrient content gives extra oomph to breast milk. 

Tea or infusion 

Raspberry leaf is often prepared as a tea, hot or iced. The tea, brewed with boiling water, has a taste similar to that of black tea and is considered quite pleasant by most people. Still the boiling water and the relatively low concentration of raspberry leaf in this tea make it weak as a nutritional supplement. 

To get the full nutritional value of raspberry leaf, it is best brewed as a cold infusion. To brew a cold infusion fill a glass container with the loose dried or fresh leaves. Don't pack them in. The proper amount is about as much as will loosely fill the container in a fluffy pile. Then fill the container up with cold water and stir the leaves in well. Let the mixture sit over night or for at least eight hours. Strain and use the infusion as a nutritional supplement. 

Raspberry leaf can also be made into a tincture with 40 percent alcohol. The tincture is most often used to treat heavy and painful menstrual periods.


Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Lungwort: Breathe easy, free from toxic pollution

Finding lungwort growing wild in my yard is a special treat and as close as Mother Earth gets to praising organic urban homesteading. Lungwort only grows in places that are particularly lacking in toxic pollution.

Creative Commons image by Prof. D. Richards of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Prof. D. Richards of Flickr.com

Often it's found in idyllic forest glades for just this reason. But for the past twelve years, it has grown by some stone steps my husband and I built by hand. The pretty little plants appear to avoid the east side of our house where coal smoke from the town sometimes rolls up just below our front door. 

Lungwort was identified centuries ago as a plant that could be beneficial for those with respiratory ailments. Some scholars today ascribe this to the medieval "doctrine of signatures," which held that plants vaguely resembling a part or attribute of the human body could help in that reflected area. The leaves of lungwort are vaguely lung-shaped and have spots on them that some people think might mirror what a diseased lung would look like. 

Remedies developed based on the "doctrine of signatures" have been widely discredited by empirical trials. Mostly it appears plants simply don't resemble human body parts all that much and any accidental similarity is just a fluke. (Yet another blow to the conceit that the universe revolves around us.)

However, it is worth noting that most theories get started somewhere. And lungwort, being a particularly ancient European herb, could have been among the reasons some healer long ago developed the doctrine. In a world ruled by religion, like Europe in the Middle Ages, it would be tempting to believe that an all-knowing God would put clues to healing in the appearance of plants and lungwort has a handy shape.

Creative Commons image by Normanack of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Normanack of Flickr.com

But the connection is likely reversed from what most believe. Lungwort has been proven in studies, including those by the University of North Carolina, to be helpful in soothing lung irritation caused by pollution or allergens. It is also used to treat asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis and coughs accompanying viral infections. Medieval healers may have known of these properties and used the plant's resemblance to a lung to come up with the "doctrine of signatures."

Lungwort is sometimes available in capsules of freeze-dried, ground leaves or in tincture, but not enough study has been done on these processes and there is anecdotal evidence from herbalists to suggest that lungwort is not very effective unless used in its unprocessed form as fresh or air-dried leaves and flowers. The mucilage (a slimy substance) in the leaves as well as antioxidant compounds appear to account for its benefits to the respiratory system.

Creative Commons image by  Andrii Zymohliad

Creative Commons image by  Andrii Zymohliad

Lungwort is relatively easy to spot because it is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, with violet and pink blossoms as well as lush, slightly hairy dark-green leaves with their distinctive shape and pale spots.

Lungwort leaves are also used in fresh salads. That is the best way to get the full antioxidant effects, which are good for the skin and general health. But they do have a bit of a bitter bite like some other dark greens.

Lungwort is also used to aid the treatment of urinary tract infections, heavy menstrual bleeding, thyroid problems and digestive bloating. Medical research with lungwort is particularly scarce, possibly because of its association with the "doctrine of signatures," so there is less data available about its other benefits than for its use with lung ailments, but experience bears it out.

Lady's mantle of humble beauty and healing wounds - Home Medicine Cycle 36

Lady's mantle is one of those good, simple herbs that is easy to spot and recognize. It also has very specific medicinal uses. All in all, it is one of my favorite herbs--dependable and helpful.

Lady's mantle leaves with their distinctive shape - Creative commons image by Chris Cardew

Lady's mantle leaves with their distinctive shape - Creative commons image by Chris Cardew

The most interesting thing about lady's mantle is the shape of its leaves. They look a bit like a fan but the easiest way to describe their shape is that they look exactly like what the name says they are. They look like a medieval lady's cloak--if you turn them upside down. Once you've handled a lady's mantle leaf and thought about how it looks like a cloak, it is very unlikely you'll ever have trouble identifying it again.

Naturally, medieval Christian herbalists with their propensity to ascribe meaning to the shapes of herbs--if nothing else as an aid to memorization--decided that lady's mantle was the herb of St. Mary, the holy virgin, because it looked so much like a traveling cloak. it also has a reputation for saving people from terrible wound infections and it's even useful in women's health. Whether or not you believe the shape of a plant has anything to do with anything, remembering this anecdote can remind you of the plant's properties.

Lady's mantle flowers - Creative Commons image by Victor To

Lady's mantle flowers - Creative Commons image by Victor To

The most important medicinal quality of lady's mantle is the healing of wounds. Partly the healing comes from properties of the herb that dry the wound out and thus prevent infection. Other chemical compounds in the leaves help to slow bleeding. A strong tea (decoction) of fresh or dried leaves makes a good wash for scrapes and cuts. I have not encountered it used in a salve and it's possible that the compounds of this herb don't keep well. It is taken internally as a tea or tincture at times to slow bleeding and to moderate excessive menstrual flow. In Sweden the tincture is used for diseases that cause convulsions or muscle spasms. 

This is a gentle plant that usually grows wild in the corners of my garden. I don't have to cultivate it and I just pick it while I weed. Lady's mantle grows best in cool moist climates such as central and northern Europe. 

Ginger - the great protector and comforter: Home Medicine Cycle 30

It can feel like a hostile world out there. It seems like every other day that I read about a new substance, product or pollutant that threatens my family with cancer, toxicity or liver damage. Gone are the days when I drank water from free-flowing streams as a child and ate wilderness snow without fear. From packaged foods to pharmaceutical (some of them very necessary) to  the very air we can't help but breathe, carcinogens and toxins are everywhere. 

Ginger root - Creative Commons image by  Andrés Monroy-Hernández 

Ginger root - Creative Commons image by  Andrés Monroy-Hernández 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you had a strong and comforting defender that could protect you and your family from many of these hazards. Research is showing that you might have just such a friend, and unlike so many herbs I feature here, this is one you can buy fresh at most grocery stores. 


That's right. The knobbly root that you may have overlooked as a nice spice, tea or at most an addition to Tai soup has some serious defending and comforting powers. Not all of the uses are fully understood yet and the research is ongoing. But there are a couple of things you can be sure of.

Ginger's easy and proven home remedies extend to: 

Fresh ginger and lemon tea - Creative Commons image by Jacqueline of Flickr.com

Fresh ginger and lemon tea - Creative Commons image by Jacqueline of Flickr.com

  • Ginger tea for coughs, colds and flu: I used to think I just loved the taste and warming feel of ginger when I had a cold or the flu. As it turns out ginger also eases coughs and fights many respiratory viruses. Not only is ginger tea (made by grating fresh ginger root into a cup of hot water) a good idea (and delicious) for coughs and colds, ginger syrup and even tincture can help too.
  • Ginger syrup, ginger candy or fresh ginger root as a food for stomach troubles and nausea: Ginger is most famous among herbalists for being a nausea calmer.As the results of scientific studies come in, we are finding out that it isn't just nausea it helps with. It helps to heal difficult-to-treat-stomach ulcers through antimicrobial activity. It is specifically helpful for nausea during pregnancy and for post-operative and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Of course, it also helps many children with motion sickness, though not all children can handle enough of the spicy taste.
  • Ginger tea or powdered ginger root for  menstrual cramps: Ginger tea  (made with grated fresh ginger root) can be a great help with menstrual cramps of the inflammatory variety. I've read that some preparations of powdered ginger root are as powerful as Ibuprofen in mitigating cramps, but I always take any preparation I can't make myself at home with a large grain of salt, because buying herbal preparations from non-local sources is always a gamble. You might get lucky and find ginger root powder that is fresh enough and as effective as the studies show it can be, but you could easily buy over-processed and aged preparations and have nothing. For now, I stick to a combination of yarrow tincture and ginger tea for cramps.
  • Ginger essential oil aroma therapy for post-operative and chemotherapy induced nausea: Several studies have shown that women who underwent chemotherapy for the treatment of breast cancer used ginger aromatherapy effectively to curb resulting nausea. Another study has found similarly beneficial effects for patients experiencing nausea after operations.
  • Ginger tea or powder for migraine headaches: Ginger tea can be a great comfort for migraines. A study has found that ginger root powder (if properly stored and kept fresh) can be as powerful as pharmaceutical migraine medications.
  • Ginger tincture for muscle soreness and inflammation: Ginger is strongly anti-inflammatory and it has been taken by competitive athletes in many countries to reduce the wear and tear of training. It can also help with joint and muscle inflammations and strain.
Detail of ginger - Creative Commons image by Miran Rijavec

Detail of ginger - Creative Commons image by Miran Rijavec

There is exciting research showing new areas where ginger shows great potential, but it is less clear in these areas how a homecrafting herbalist could make the right kind of herbal extract from ginger to achieve these effects. It is very likely that with some experimentation and work we will soon be able to tap into the amazing protective qualities of ginger.

  • Ginger treating diabetes: Ginger extracts are being used in trials to treat type 2 diabetes in people and type 1 diabetes in animals. Ginger powder and extracts have been studied in several trails and found to be effective against type 2 diabetes and found to be an "effective treatment." Considering the number of studies in this area, it is too bad that there isn't more information on the use of dietary ginger or ginger tea to treat diabetes.
  • Ginger fighting cancer: Ginger extracts have been shown to be effective in treating many types of cancer, particularly in animal studies. Some of the specific types treated by ginger are liver, pancreatic, gastrointestinal, skin, lungprostate and breast cancers. Ginger has been shown to stunt the growth of cancer sells and prevent the spreading of cancers to other areas of the body. Ginger has been found to assist in treating cancers that are chemo-resistant or inoperable. It is particularly interesting, given that almost all studies are done with powdered ginger root, that some of the compounds  most helpful in treating cancer in ginger are best accessed when the root is steamed (i.e. made into tea rather than dried and powdered). And yet, we don't know exactly what does are needed in these treatments because studying a simple tea wouldn't make for an expensive drug and high profits. 
  • Ginger helping with chemotherapy: In addition to the aromatherapy studies, ginger extracts have been found to significantly reduce post-chemo nausea
  • Ginger protecting against radiation: Several studies have shown treatment with ginger extracts before exposure to radiation helped reduce the risks to animals (including severe radiation sickness and death) of the exposure. 
  • Ginger helping the brains of middle-aged women: Due to its amazing antioxidant qualities ginger extracts have been used in studies to protect against oxidative stress that causes mild cognitive impairment in many healthy women. The medical industry isn't particularly interested in studying how fresh ginger tea compares to the expensive ginger extracts used in such studies, but the amounts of the compounds involved suggest tea may work just as well.
  • Ginger preventing Alzheimer's:  Ginger root extract has been used to prevent Alzheimer's symptoms in animals. More study is needed but the right compounds are present in ginger and it clearly would make a good supplemental treatment at the very least.
  • Ginger wiping out microbes:  Ginger extracts have been shown to have a lot of antimicrobial power in test tubes. It's not entirely clear how it can be applied to daily use in the right concentrations.
  • Ginger battling HIV and other dangerous human viruses: Some studies have shown ginger to be effective in the fight against difficult-to-treat viruses that infect humans. However, these studies have mainly been done on animals or in test tubes. So, it isn't clear how to replicate these results at home.

It's great to see so much scientific research being done with a medicinal herb. On the other hand, one of the significant problems with medical studies in this day and age is the bias of profit margins. Even if a simple herbal tea has fantastic and easily demonstrable effects, you aren't likely to find a study proving that it does because that would cut into the profits of the pharmaceutical companies that finance such studies..Many of the studies show that a small amount of ginger powder has a great effect, but there is no study on using fresh ginger or ginger tincture, which are much more easily obtained by individuals and less easily marketed as an expensive "dietary supplement" or pharmaceutical. At the same time, some of the best medicinal compounds in ginger are best accessed when the root is steamed, rather than dried. It is possible that ginger tea is actually more effective, despite the lack of studies looking into it. It is important to remember that while the presence of favorable scientific studies is a good sign, the absence of scientific studies isn't proof of a lack of usefulness. It is often a sign that a medicinal is too easy to use at home and thus not a good bet for marketing.

I love to hear from you. Drop a comment below and share your experience.

The painkiller, anti-inflammatory and first-aid herb: Home Medicine Cycle 17

I must have been thirteen when I was away at summer camp and I was first assailed by crippling cramps. Then every month for twenty years I spent a few hours in excruciating pain, while waiting for my heavy doses of Ibuprofen to kick in. I had to take the maximum dose for two or three days just avoid writhing on the floor in pain. It wasn't a matter of being pain free, but of having less pain.

Creative commons image by Randi Hausken

Creative commons image by Randi Hausken

Doctors told me it was just something I had to live with. I knew the pills weren't good for my liver, but there was no hope in sight.

So, you can bet that I was ready to try just about anything. I tried various home remedies (heat packs, special diets and so forth), but nothing worked appreciably, until I discovered yarrow.

This was at the very beginning of my experimentation with herbs, so I had no real belief that it would work. I originally started studying herbs out of a romantic enthusiasm for fantasy books with herbalists in them. For real life, I had been taught that herbs are mild, gentle and only slightly effective. They might smooth out rough skin, but they couldn't touch extreme pain. .

When I read that yarrow could help with menstrual cramps, I hoped that it might mean I could cut back a few of the ten toxic, maximum strength Ibuprofen I was taking every month. That would be well worth the effort. 

Creative Commons image by  O. Pichard of Wikipedia

Creative Commons image by  O. Pichard of Wikipedia

An herbalist friend taught me to make tincture (like this). I already knew very well that yarrow isn't poisonous and that I'm not allergic to it, because my brothers and I used to use yarrow leaves to pretend we were smoking when we were kids. I had chewed up quite a few of yarrow leaves pretending to be a farmhand with tobacco in my cheek. I'm not sure why we chose the excruciatingly bitter yarrow plant for this, but that was the rule of the rural kid-mafia back then.

In any case, I knew the plant was safe, so I made my first tincture and swallowed some before my next attack of menstrual cramps. I was too chicken not to take Ibuprofen as soon as I felt the first twinge. I knew that if I left it too long, I would be acting like a worm on a fishhook for the next few hours. Usually about four hours after I took the Ibuprofen it would start to wear off and the dull ache would give way serious cramps again. Then it would be time to hastily take another pill. 

Warnings: You don't get heavy-duty healing effects without heavy-duty medicine. Herbs are real medicine and it is a good idea to consult with doctors about your health and about taking herbs. 

People who are allergic to plants in the Aster family (including ragweed) may have allergic reactions to yarrow. Pregnant women should not take yarrow because the relaxing effects on the uterus could theoretically contribute to miscarriage. Yarrow can conflict with medications meant to thin the blood or drugs that reduce production of stomach acid. 

But this time, I forgot to take the Ibuprofen again for the simple reason that I didn't feel the cramps returning. I didn't even feel the dull ache for a few hours. When I did remember, I took more tincture cautiously. That month I only needed two Ibuprofen. Within a year, I had figured out the dosage so that I only needed one Ibuprofen every month and then often none at all.

Now that is herb power!

Here's how yarrow tincture works to quell menstrual cramps. It's an anti-inflammatory, it slows bleeding, it stimulates the uterus and estrogen in the body, and it relaxes the large flat muscles. That means that it may not work this well for some types of cramps. It will work best for cramps in large flat muscles (including strained muscles in the back). It's worth a try for any type of menstrual cramps and it can  help to regulate overly heavy menstruation (and prevent anemia). 

Creative Commons image by Curtis Clark

Creative Commons image by Curtis Clark

In order to control cramps as bad as mine, I have to take half a teaspoon of tincture every two hours, starting as soon as I know the cramps are coming (before they've actually started.) If I don't take it within the first few hours and the cramps get going, I'm in for a bad few hours. I don't have to wake up at night to take the yarrow tincture every two hours but I do have to have it by my bed and take it immediately before rising during the night or in the morning. 

Yarrow tincture works so well for this that it has quickly become indispensable. If I was to be banished to a city wasteland and I could only take one herb with me, it would be yarrow, and not just for issue of menstrual cramps. It is one of the most versatile and powerful herbs in general. 

Here are just a few uses:

  • I have seen yarrow ease painfully strained back muscles a number of times, converting several skeptical backpackers to herbalism.
  • It is one of the best herbs for slowing bleeding, both in wounds and internal bleeding.
  • It has strong anti-microbial and disinfectant qualities. The tincture can be used to disinfect cuts and the salve will help to keep dirty scrapes or cuts from getting infected (while helping to staunch bleeding).
  • Yarrow has been used for gastrointestinal problems that involve inflammation.

Happy herb gathering! It's the height of the wildcrafting season. Remember to be careful of correct identification and note that an herbal guide isn't the same as a prescription from a doctor or professional herbalist who has seen you personally.

I love to compare notes. Leave your observations, questions and stories in a comment below and share this post with your friends.