After the launch of our Mom to Be Tea, I’ve had women come to me to ask about the safety of red raspberry leaves (a key ingredient in our tea) during pregnancy. But even before that, I’ve noticed quite a bit of misinformation in regards to this herb. Many expecting moms have heard that red raspberry leaf induces labour and should only be ingested in the final two weeks of pregnancy. A cursory Google search (the first place many of us turn for information) can serve to deepen that misconception further.
Believe it or not, its actual effects are quite the opposite. During my herbalist training, I was taught that red raspberry leaf has many beneficial properties for pregnancy, ones that might run counter to conventional wisdom. With this blog post, I thought I’d try to set the record straight by offering a bit of a deep dive into this misunderstood herb.
Red Raspberry Leaf – What is it?
You’re likely quite familiar already with the delicious fruits of the red raspberry plant, but the benefits of its leaves are less commonly known. Packed full of vitamins and minerals, they can be brewed into a nutritive tea, containing vitamins B, C, and E, as well as calcium, iron, phosphorus, and potassium. It’s considered to be a tonic, which in herbal terms describes a particularly beneficial plant that promotes significant improvements in health with minimal side effects. It can also be combined with other nutritive herbs like nettle and rosehips to maximize its beneficial properties further. For centuries, it has been recognized as a powerful uterine tonic by indigenous people throughout the world for pregnancy and childbirth and has also been used traditionally as a nourishing reproductive tonic.
What are the Benefits for Pregnant Women?:
The leaves contain a high concentration of fragarine, an alkaloid compound that can relax and tighten the uterine and pelvic muscles to help ease delivery. It’s believed that its astringent properties can also help manage bleeding during and after labour, reducing the likelihood of complications and even the length of labour itself. As mentioned above, it also contains a laundry list of vitamins and minerals that are needed for an expecting mom, particularly in the second and third trimesters. In my own experience, red raspberry leaves are best used in pregnancy as a uterine tonic and for nutritive support.
Does Red Raspberry Leaf Induce Labour?
I posed the question to my friend Rachel Schwartman, a naturopathic doctor and birthing doula at West End Doulas, to get her thoughts. Her take? “It’s a misconception that raspberry leaf tea can actually start labour. What it will do is tonify the uterine muscles and help the contracting uterus work more effectively for a quicker and more efficient labour. It also can reduce the recovery time by helping the uterus to continue clamping down after delivery. Lastly, due to its high mineral content, red raspberry leaf can assist in healthy breast milk production.”
In contrast, blue and black cohosh are the herbs traditionally used to help with contractions. These herbs are called stimulants and are sometimes used in the delivery room in cases of prolonged labour. They’re also used to help promote and regulate the menstrual cycle.
When and How Much to Drink
There are differing opinions on when best to start drinking red raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy. Rosemary Gladstar, a well-known herbalist, suggests taking it all throughout pregnancy in her popular book Herbal Healing for Women. Personally, I would recommend gradually implementing it into your diet. A conservative approach, since many women have children later in life, would be to begin between 28 and 32 weeks to reap the most benefits of this herb. Steep a tablespoon of our Mom to be Tea (which contains organic red raspberry leaves) in a mug of boiling water for 7-10 minutes. Start with a cup a day, and build up to 2-4 cups as you progress in your pregnancy. Even if you’re not pregnant, the calcium, iron, and vitamins make it a healthy and delicious addition to any diet.