Ancient Medicinal Qualities of Raspberries and Blackberries

Functional Food

By Janet Colston, PhD

Raspberries and blackberries are among the fastest growing fruit categories in the U.S. in the last 5 years according to analysts at RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness [1]. These are a great choice for people who want a different texture from strawberries or blueberries but still want to eat berries high in phytonutrients. While raspberry production in the U.S. is predominantly located in California, the south-eastern states of Georgia, North Carolina in addition to Texas and Ohio have superb blackberry growing climates.

Raspberries (Rubus idaeus L.) The first known recording of raspberries dates back to 100 BC when fruits were gathered in the foothills of Mt. Ida, infact this is where the name Rubus Idaeus originates [2]. The Romans used them for their medicinal properties and subsequently spread cultivation throughout Europe [3]. Today raspberries are a mainstream berry, with more than 8,000 raspberry farms across the U.S. [4] and a global market that continues to grow [5].

Keep your diet rich in flavonoids, anthocyanins and polyphenols  

Consuming a diet rich in raspberries is linked with a reduced risk of both age and lifestyle associated diseases [6].  Although all berries contain cyanidin-based anthocyanins,  glycosides are unique to strawberries and raspberries  [7] [8], and the sophoroside attachment is unique to raspberries [9]. Red raspberries have a unique polyphenol profile of flavonoids, anthocyanins and the ellagitannins, ellagic acid, sanguiin H6, and lambertianin which are known prevent the progression of many pathogenic diseases including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, cancer, obesity, and Alzheimer disease [6]. Raspberries also contain trace elements of important phytonutrients including hydroxycinnamic acids [10], hydroxybenzoic acids, quercetin, kaempferol and tannins [11] with additional health promoting benefits [6].

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) Commercially grown blackberries are becoming more common in our supermarkets. Growing wild in the northern hemisphere, brambles are ever popular as a ‘superberry’ because of their high antioxidant properties [12]. 

High in Phytonutrients  “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” Hippocrates

Around 400BC Hippocrates suggested we prevent disease by eating nutrient dense foods [13]. He used blackberries in herbal medicines as the leaves, bark and roots all contain large amounts of tannins with astringent properties. The ancient Greeks knew all about blackberry’s medicinal qualities and considered them an excellent anti-inflammatory remedy for gout [14] as did the Cherokee, using an infusion of the Texas dewberry for the same ailment [15]. Benjamin Franklin, the only person to have signed all three founding documents of the USA suffered from severe gout [16]. He was treated with colchicine isolated from autumn crocus but could he have known about the power of blackberries? 

Anti-cancer, Anti-diabetic, Anti-microbial, Anti-oxidant, Anti-dysentery

Medicinally, blackberries have been used to treat many common diseases, including inflammation, heart disease, respiratory infections, type II diabetes, and cancer, particularly esophageal, cervical and breast cancers [17]. Blackberry leaves and roots are rich in triterpenes, flavonoids, saponins, arbutin, hydroquinone and tannins which have a combined carmative effect and root tea was traditionally used to treat diarrhea [17] but conversely the berries have the opposite effect acting as a mild laxative so eat them in moderation. Leaf infusions have been helpful in treating other skin conditions and external wounds to prevent infection. Gargling with blackberry leaf tea can be an effective antimicrobial mouthwash to prevent and treat sore throats, ulcers and inflammation in the mouth [18]. If you can’t get to a dentist during the COVID crisis then try some blackberry leaf tea for toothache relief. 

Food Inequality in Black and Ethnic Minorities

Barbara Bray MBE

Our friend, Barbara Bray MBE talks about how wealth and ethnicity impacts the ability to buy adequate functional foods that can negatively impact health and disease prevention. Black and ethnic minorities are particularly  affected by Covid-19 [19] and struggling to ensure their diets have enough functional fruits. One way to address this would be to pick your own raspberries and blackberries either wild or in farms that welcome self service.

Listen to Barbara, a health food nutritionist talk about these issues.

Raspberry or Blackberry Cordial

How about a great recipe of fermented raspberry juice to absorb all that berry goodness as a great alternative to sodas without all those additives!

  • 300g fresh raspberries or blackberries
  • 6 Seville oranges juiced
  • 30mls whey
  • 100g sugar
  • ½ tsp Himalayan pink sea salt

Crush the raspberries through a sieve with the back of a spoon into a large bowl, mix with the oranges, sugar and salt, cover and leave for 2-7 days for the sugars to ferment. Can be diluted to your own taste with water and if you don’t want too much sugar try stevia, a plant based sugar alternative. Bottle and keep in the fridge for a simple vitamin C antioxidant booster and really delicious cordial on a hot day.

Growing Raspberries and blackberries

Bare root raspberry canes can be planted in good quality soil with stake supports to secure the new growth.  Care should be taken on selecting  cultivars as some varieties will bear fruit in year 1 (primocanes) and others year 2 (Floricanes). Some of the most reliable raspberry cultivars include Autumn Bliss,  Boyne and Cascade Bounty, tolerant to root rot, produce good yields and are cold hardy [20]. Blackberries are perennial plants split into three categories of thorny, thornless and trailing thornless cultivars. Jewel is a great vigorously growing blackberry variety [20]. Self fertile canes can be grown in fertile soil, 5-6ft apart, mulched to retain moisture with an all purpose fertiliser. Hybrids of raspberries and blackberries are very popular for growing high yields and include ‘Logan’, ‘Boysen’, and ‘Tayberry’. 

It’s really worth considering a number of climate factors including cold hardiness, disease resistance and length of machine harvestable fruiting laterals when considering commercial cultivars. Also give consideration to the market demands and standards expected by supermarket buyers.

Image Courtesy of Global Plant Genetics Ltd  – Blackberry Von

Janet Colston PhD is pharmacologist with an interest in growing ‘functional’ foods that have additional phytonutrients and display medicinal qualities that are beneficial to human health. She grows these using a range of techniques including plant tissue micropropagation and controlled environmental agriculture to ensure the highest quality control.

1 thought on “Ancient Medicinal Qualities of Raspberries and Blackberries

  1. Wow, I didn’t know any of this. My grandparents have blackberry bushes in their yard and my kids and I love going over to pick them. This makes me even more excited to get some!

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