The terms herbaceous and woody keep coming up in our research on various plants. These are words we have always heard and have a vague idea what they mean but we thought it would be useful to find out what the actual definitions are. These terms are used to classify plants according to the structure of their stems. Herbaceous plants have a flexible stem and no persistent woody system above the ground, i.e. their above ground stems die back every year. Herbaceous plants may still be perennial or biennial but the persistent part of the plant from year to year will not be an above ground stem. Woody plant species add a new layer of woody tissue each year to their stem and the stem is generally not a flexible structure. You can see the yearly addition of woody material as rings in a tree trunk. Woody plants will typically have a tree or shrub shape and structure which is supported by the stem. Some woody plants do not support themselves but rather rely on other woody plants for their support structure, these are typically called vines but the botanical term liana may sometimes be seen too.
Today we are looking at two plants instead of one because they are so similar. These are fun to grow not just because you can make tea from the leaves of the plant but the fruit is delicious. We have both of these growing but have never used the leaves from our plants for tea, but we used the raspberry leaves in some of our ferments in place of grape leaves for the tannin content. We will have to try some teas with them this year.
We never grew either of these plants before we lived in New Market. One of our neighbors there grew raspberries and as he would thin the young shoots in Spring, he would give us some of them to plant in our yard. Over a couple of years we ended up with a good size raspberry patch. They turned out to be easy to grow and it was the first fruit we had available from our own yard.
When we moved to Boonsboro, we dug some up to plant here. It did not do very well last year but has since been transplanted and is starting to take. That plant is the Rubus idaeus “Heritage” variety listed below. We added another variety since moving here and are trying our hand at blackberries as well.
- Common Name: Blackberry/ Raspberry
- Scientific Name: Rubus
- Rubus is Latin for Bush or Bramble
- Rubus fruticosus is the European blackberry variety
- We grow two types of red raspberry at our farm
- Rubus idaeus “Heritage”
- Rubus “Latham”
- Family: Rosaceae (Rose) Ro-za-shee-i
- Common Medicinal Uses: Antibacterial, Antioxidant (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19386474 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10691606)
- Purported Herbal Actions: Astringent, Antioxidant, Antibacterial, Antimicrobial
- Parts Used: Leaves
- Preparations: Tea, Infusion, Decoction
- Description: Blackberry and Raspberry are members of the Rubus genus. They can be distinguished from each other by the behavior of the torus when the fruit is picked. In Blackberry the torus remains intact with the picked fruit and in Raspberry the torus remains on the plant leaving the fruit hollow. Both plants are perennial deciduous woody cane shrubs that typically produce fruit biennially (floricane) although there are some varieties that produce annually (primocane).
There are hundreds of varieties of plants within the Rubus genus but only a small number are used to commercially grow fruit.
In traditional herbal medicine, teas, infusions, and decoctions of the leaf are used to treat diarrhea due to the astringent properties. Additionally, the solutions have been used to treat minor sore throat pain. Topically the solution has been used to treat minor rashes.
Some sources report better medicinal results if the leaves are fermented before use (http://natural-healing-guide.com/Therapeutic-Teas/Blackberry-Leaf-Tea.htm).
Red Raspberry leaf can be used as a decaffeinated alternative to black tea.
- Safety and Contraindications: Because of the tannin content caution should be used if you have liver disease.
- Cultivation: Growing these fruits is simple in most of the United States but they spread aggressively and since they are thorny, care should be taken when pruning. When purchasing, be sure to note if the variety is a primocane or floricane variety because pruning techniques will differ. The leaves of the plants can be cut when young for the best medicinal quality. Harvesting young leaves from the plant will also stimulate better plant growth. Typical life cycle of the cane fruit plant is for a perennial root to continue from year to year and in each year new canes (primocanes) sprout and grow to full height but do not flower or fruit. In their second year the canes (floricanes) send out lateral branches, flower, fruit, and then die. Some varieties have been developed that produce fruit on the primocanes in the first year. Maintaining brambles so that leaf and fruit harvesting is convenient is best achieved using wire trellis setups.