Rubus niveus, A Love Story

This is a story of reverent, deep remembrance. It is a tale that is close to my heart. I hope it touches yours and inspires care and awareness for the way we all use the Earth’s resources: medicines, tools, fuels, and waters.

There I was, sitting in Tropical Herbalism class in the intimate backyard of Spirit and Beyond in Little Haiti.  The sun was extra generous that day, so I placed my blanket in the shady area of the circle. My spirit was tender – exposed, but lovingly so, in the manner of an ever-opening heart. This day we were exploring Tisanes, Infusions and Decoctions.[4] A few classmates stood around a garden table, removing leaves from 3 different types of tropical herbs, among them, Rubus niveus, also known by the names Tropical Raspberry and Mysore Raspberry. Everyone chattered in the relaxed atmosphere that lovers of the Earth carry with them everywhere they go. I sat and absorbed the sights and sounds. I greeted and hugged my soul brothers and sisters as they arrived. And the class began.

As we meandered through the ways of water extraction, stray leaves of the Tropical Raspberry floated over to me at my seat. We all sat, present with each other and joined in the common pursuit of knowledge and deeper holistic living. We steeped like the hibiscus sun tea - which brewed in the center of the circle - in each other’s knowledge. The class was buzzing, but my awareness was falling in love with this leaf in between my fingers. This Tropical Raspberry was such a delicate green. It was bright, but with a depth of saturation that was nearly contrary to its lightness in color. It made my skin feel like velvet as my finger pads moved in circles upon its surface.

When it was time for each of us in the class to choose an herb and create our own infusion, I already had my selection. It was already in my hand and already in my heart.

That night I sat in a sacred ceremony: just me, the infusion of Tropical Raspberry, the kiss of wind and blessing of the sun’s reflected night light. Before I drank, I sat and asked the spirit of Rubus niveus to show me what it would affect in my body. A feeling of love embraced my uterus first, then my ovaries, then my whole pelvic bowl. In this state of bliss, I asked if anything else would be affected, and the totality of my body was embraced with love.

I took some of the Rubus niveus infusion into my mouth and let it sit there for a moment. The velvety feeling it had introduced to my fingers that afternoon spread throughout the tissues of my mouth. This time it came with a slight prickly sensation, much like the sensation from drinking Bidens alba (Spanish Needle), but with a bit of extra gentleness. As I swallowed and accepted Rubus niveus into my body, the feeling of velvet entered every cell. Love enveloped my Yoni. Svadhisthana (the Sacral Chakra) glowed orange like chalcedony.

I consumed only one third of the eight-ounce jar of infusion in that ceremony. I replaced the cap and slipped into meditation. The spirit of Rubus niveus appeared, and I was surprised because her visage was ferocious . . . nearly war-like! The feeling of the plant was so loving, so I asked with confusion if this was her true form. She remained seated and still with me, unchanged in answer to my question. She remained with me as I drifted into multi-sensory visions of autumn fields, seed pods, sun-burnt grasses, dried flower buds, and leaves. 

The next day, I sat in sacred ceremony once more, and drank the remaining two-thirds of the Rubus niveus infusion from Saturday’s class. The first sense that arrived was a scent a memory I couldn’t quite place. It was green, spinachy. It had a bite. As I drank more, the memory began to take form. . . I was in a field in high summer in Wisconsin. All the plants were drying out, nearing the end of this life cycle, and getting ready for hibernation.

Again, the velvety sensation enveloped my body and I became nurturance itself. My muscles relaxed, my breath deepened, and all my senses were heightened with a smooth edge.

With that plethora of sense information and profound healing, I was ready to journey with this plant for the rest of the moon cycle. The first step: cultivation. Within a week, I was walking through the urban gardens of Earth N Us Farm with my classmate Olivia. As we wandered around looking for the big prickly bush, butterflies, cats and neighbors came to investigate. The neighbors stayed and chatted with us as I harvested branches and pruned the overgrown thicket. We gave them information about the benefits of Rubus niveus and they were surprised to learn that this plant bore more than just dark purple raspberries in the late winter and early spring months. These two radiant women looked at this sprawling, thorny thatch of weeds with new eyes. We all parted ways that day, nourished by new friendship and carrying broader knowledge of our abundant Earth.

The second step: drying and storing. The space in my living area is cozy, so it was my child-like pleasure to find ways of air-drying Rubus niveus that fit in my smallish room and stayed out of the curious paws of my cat. I hung them from the stool of my desk/sewing table, from my book shelf/altar, and from the space between the door and the door-fitting of my armoire. They all dried within a few days, and were ready for storage in many air-tight glass jars.

As the moon waned and then waxed again, I foraged the World Wide Web for more information on Rubus niveus in an effort to share some information that was more approachable by way of linear thinking and logic. At the time, I knew I would share my genuinely personal account of the effects of Rubus niveus, which is highly emotional and sense-based. This method of ‘speaking’ directly to the plant and getting acquainted with its properties and benefits is a purely intuitive route of gathering information on plant medicine.

The written history of Rubus niveus begins in Myanmar (Burma) and India, where it is known as Mahabaleshwar Raspberry, named after a region of India where it can be found in the evergreen forests in great profusion. The first known intercontinental leap this herb took was to Kenya, East Africa, where it still flourishes in the mountains. [1]

According to an article written by Julia F. Morton [1]:

Seeds from Kenya were obtained by F. B. Harrington of Natal, South Africa, in 1947. In 1948, he supplied seeds to the University of Florida's Agricultural Research and Education Center, Homestead. The resulting seedlings were planted out in 1949 and fruited so well the following winter that plants were distributed to many experimenters throughout south and central Florida. By 1952, many nurseries were offering the plants for sale and had difficulty filling the demand. By 1955, a major supermarket in Lake Worth was selling the fruits by the pint. In 1955, the University of Puerto Rico received planting material from Florida and established plantings in the central-western mountains of that island.

In Florida, some interest was still alive in 1965, but early enthusiasm waned as homeowners neglected their raspberry bushes, growth became too rampant, picking more and more difficult among the tangle of thorny canes, and birds competed eagerly for the crop. Many plantings were destroyed, and few remain.

Rubus niveus is an extremely hardy, bossy plant. Birds love the berries and carry the seeds, helping it spread. If the plants grow, unchecked by human care-takers, it has the potential to wipe out existing natural vegetation in areas where is it considered an invasive species. In Hawai’i, a place where the ecology needs extra protection due to its particularly unique and secluded ecology, Rubus niveus has been proclaimed a ‘noxious weed’. In the Galapagos Islands, it earned the title of most invasive species. [2]

Rubus niveus is clearly a plant that grew and spread due to its relationship with humanity. And since collectively and generally, we forgot how to live in close relationship with the Earth and Her plant species, some of the knowledge of how to care for ourselves through Her abundant plant species needs to be remembered. In my opinion, Rubus niveus grows in such rampant abundance because it is safe and healthy to cultivate enough of its leaves to support our bodies daily, while still allowing the plant to live and bear fruits that also support the human body’s health.

This list of some medicinal uses of the Raspberry species as a whole (not just the tropical variety) was compiled from Botanical.com and from Wellness Mama [3]:

§  Raspberry Leaf is Astringent (causing the contraction of body tissues, in this case: both internal and external) and stimulant. Raspberry Leaf Tea, made by the infusion of 1 OZ. of the dried leaves in a pint of boiling water, is employed as a gargle for sore mouths, canker of the throat, and as a wash for wounds and ulcers. The leaves, combined with the powdered bark of Slippery Elm, make a good poultice for cleansing wounds, burns and scalds, removing proud flesh (the new skin that forms to protect a wound) and promoting healing.

§  A cold infusion of Raspberry leaves will relieve constipation and upset stomach

§  Warm Raspberry Leaf Tea is valuable during parturition (childbirth). It should be taken freely.

§  It is naturally high in magnesium, potassium, iron and b-vitamins which make it helpful for nausea, leg cramps, and improving sleep during pregnancy. The specific combination of nutrients in Raspberry Leaf makes it extremely beneficial for the female reproductive system. It strengthens the uterus and pelvic muscles which some midwives say leads to shorter and easier labors.

§  A strong raspberry leaf tea or tincture will sooth sunburn, eczema, and rashes when used externally. Swishing with a tincture or infusion of Raspberry Leaf is great for the gums and can help alleviate the symptoms of gingivitis or gum disease.

§  The high concentration of Vitamin C in Raspberry Leaf makes it helpful during illness

I continue to enjoy a daily Rubus niveus infusion, and I even adopted a pup that sprouted from the bush at Earth N Us. I am so very grateful for its presence and for the opportunity to watch its resilient growth. The next time you walk past a weed growing in the cracks of the sidewalk, or pull weeds from the garden, or reach for the herbicide, please think twice. This might be medicine, and it might want to enrich your life. If you stop and ask, you might just get an answer.

 

[1] Article: Mysore Raspberry by Julia F. Morton https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/mysore_raspberry.html

[2] Data Sheet: Invasive Species Compendium http://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/107939

[3] Rubus Idaeus http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/r/raspbe05.html  & Raspberry Leaf Herb Profile http://wellnessmama.com/5107/raspberry-leaf-herb-profile/

[4] Definitions:

Tisane – When most people think of tea a tisane is what they have in mind: A small amount of delicate plant matter steeped in boiling water for about 5 minutes

Infusion – a large amount of delicate plant matter steeped in boiling water and left to sit for 4 or more hours before consumption

Decoction – hardy plant matter boiled and then simmered for 5-30 minute

Photos + Text by Emily Peters