Monday, 2 July 2018

Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)

RASPBERRY  (Rubus idaeus)
Family: Rosaceae

Raspberry fruits.
(Hailsham, June 2008)

Raspberries grow throughout Britain and Ireland, but are not nearly as abundant as the common bramble (see separate entry on Blackberry/Bramble; for distribution maps see Online Atlas ofthe British and Irish Flora). The soft red fruits that easily detach from a pithy core are very distinctive, as are the woody shoots or ‘canes’. Unlike bramble with its hooked spines and purplish stems that loop-over and root at the tip, raspberry canes, which are coated with slender straight prickles, grow tall and erect and have a yellowish bark. Raspberry leaves are bright green and are typically white and felted beneath. Raspberry canes are biennial: new ones grow from the rootstock in the latter half of the year, flower and fruit the following summer, then die back completely and are replaced by another new cane.

Raspberry fruits showing
internal pithy core. (Hailsham, June 2008)

To form tall canes and produce good yields of well-formed fruits, raspberries need ample soil moisture (Stanton 2013: 162-171). Wild raspberries (i.e., as opposed to cultivated varieties) are rare in areas prone to drought, and plentiful harvests of the fruits can only be gathered in well-watered habitats. With its ample rainfall, Scotland is rightly famed for high yield wild populations and is also known as a world leader in commercial raspberry production, although in recent years there has been a steady decline in output (see Scottish Government statistics).  

The soft texture and combination of sweetness and tartness make wild raspberries one of the tastiest wild fruits; they can be eaten raw or made into jams and pies (Plants For A Future [PFAF] database). The fruits contain 4.42g sugars per 100g (mainly glucose and fructose with a little sucrose; see NutritionValue online database), countered by moderately high levels of citric and malic acid (NB: in comparison with cultivated raspberries, values of sugars and organic acids are higher in the wild species; Mikulic-Petkovsek et al. 2012; see also: Ali et al. 2011). Raspberries are also high in ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The copper content in the fruits is thought likely to be important in blood formation and in producing adrenaline from dopamine (cf. Spencer et al. 2011).

Edible bud on raspberry cane.
(Hailsham, March 2009)
Medicinal and nutritional uses
Rubus idaeus plant parts are commonly used both as medicinal and edible resources. The stems, twigs, leaves and fruits are frequently cited in literature describing traditional uses in association with treatments for flu, colds, coughs, sore throats and fevers, and particularly in eastern Europe; for example, in Estonia (Sõukand and Kalle 2013), in Bukovina (a region divided by the border between Ukraine and Romania since 1940) by the Hutsuls (Sõukand and Pieroni 2016); in Roztochya, western Ukraine (Styramets et al. 2015); and in the Liubań district of Belarus (Sõukand et al. 2017; see also: Łuczaj et al. 2013). A decoction of raspberry leaves is used to treat migraines in the Mainarde Mountains in south-central Italy (Fortini et al. 2016) and an infusion of flowers in olive oil is a common remedy for skin wounds caused by insects and snakes in Kosovo (Jarić et al. 2018). Other uses include as a fruit ‘poultice’ to treat dry skin and an infusion of leaves taken as a muscle relaxant in childbirth in Valfurva, northern Italy (Dei Cas et al. 2015).

Ways in which raspberries can be prepared for consumption are as varied and widely reported in the ethnobotanical literature. In southern Bulgaria a type of fruit pickle called vódenu is made with raspberries, either on their own or with other fruits (e.g., wild apples, pears, plums, medlars, blackberries, lingonberries), to which water is added and followed by fermentation (Sõukand et al. 2015); the authors describe processes involved: “After fermentation is complete, the liquid found in the bottom of the container will have a pleasantly acidic taste. This liquid is then drained and drunk, while additional water is added to the top of the container for continued fermentation. This process continues until the character of the liquid has a fruity taste. Local people call it liuto (люто), which means spicy, because of its unique and specific taste.” (Sõukand et al. 2015: 293). The resultant vitamin-rich liquor is drunk during the winter when fresh produce is scarce. In Estonia one year old raspberry stems are used for making tea and in response to questionnaires about traditional methods of making this many recounted: “pots of raspberry stem tea remaining at the edge of the stove all day in winter, with the liquid acquiring a more intense colour and taste at the end of the day” (Sõukand and Kalle 2013: 169). Until about 30 years ago villagers living in western Turkey in the raspberry-rich forests of Mount Ida (modern Kazdağı[i]) made ‘fruit leather’ from mushed or boiled fruits (Hillman unpublished field notes).

In much of the literature on recent hunter-gatherers there are accounts of raspberry fruits being stored overwinter. This certainly seems to have been standard practice amongst many indigenous peoples of North America; for example, the Woods Cree preserved them dried together with fish or in fish oil (Leighton 1982: 22-23); the Okanagan-Colville also dried the berries and then crushed them to make juice (Turner et al. 1980: 94); and the Fisherman-Lake Slave “boiled them and placed them in birch-bark baskets in the sun to dry, then stored the dried loaves in a cache, to be broken into pieces and boiled before being eaten” (Kuhnlein and Turner 1991: 255).  

The potential contribution of raspberries to the diet is increased because they can be stored (NB: as is also the case for many other fruits presented in the Wild Plant Foods of Britain blog). In reconstructions of the diet of the ancient Huron Indians it has been calculated that, despite the fact that maize was cultivated as a staple crop, wild raspberries and other soft fruits probably met a quarter of the annual calorific needs, as well as supplying provitamin A (β-carotene), vitamins B1, B2 and C, and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus and copper (Monkton 1992).

Prehistoric and historic usage
Rubus idaeus pips are common on archaeological sites of all periods (for references see: Kroll 1998: 43). They are often preserved in large quantities in anaerobic conditions in waterlogged contexts where decay of organic materials is prevented (Jacomet 2013: 499-500). Some of the earliest records of waterlogged pips are from the Mesolithic sites of Tågerup in southern Sweden (dated to the earlier Kongemose culture; Regnell 2012) and Tybrind Vig in Denmark (dated to the later Ertebølle culture; Kubiak-Martens 1999). And, as has been reported for many of the fruit species in the blog (e.g., see separate entries for Blackberry, Sloe, Crab apple, Dog rose), raspberry pips are frequently found at Neolithic pile dwelling (‘Pfahlbauten) settlements[ii] (Colledge and Conolly 2014: table 4; Jacomet 2006: table 3). For example, at the lakeside sites of Arbon Bleiche 3 (Switzerland, Jacomet et al. 2004), Torweisen II (Germany, Herbig 2006), Ödenahlen (Germany, Maier 1995), Egolzwil 3 (Switzerland, Bollinger 1994), Horgen-Scheller (Switzerland, Favre 2002), Sutz-Lattrigen (Lattrigen Hauptstation VII; Germany, Brombacher 1997), and Seekirch-Stockwiesen (Germany, Maier 2004) thousands of waterlogged pips were identified, and only at the first named three sites were there any charred pips (all in very low numbers by comparison).

Waterlogged raspberry pips were found in domestic contexts (e.g., floors, rubbish pits) in and around the houses at a La Tène (2nd-3rd century BC) trading centre in the Ramsau Valley (Dürrnberg, Austria), in an area that was prone to periodic flooding (Swidrak 1999). Medieval cess pits, sewers, latrines or garderobes—complete with their faecal contents, and middens or rubbish dumps commonly include uncharred raspberry pips (Greig 1996: 214). For example, large numbers of waterlogged pips (with only a few charred) were preserved in a pit at the site of Develier-Courtételle in northwest Switzerland, (dated to the 5th-7th century AD; Brombacher and Hecker 2015), and at the castle of Marmorera[iii] (c.14th century AD) in southeast Switzerland c.13,000 desiccated pips were found in a crevice to the west of the chapel where household rubbish was routinely discarded (Akeret and Kühn 2008; see also: Greig 1981; Mazzanti et al. 2005; McCobb et al. 2001 ).

There are also very early documentary and pictorial records for the use of Rubus idaeus (Hummer 2010; Hummer and Janick 2007). In his De Materia Medica[iv] (written in about 65 AD), the Greek physician Dioscorides states that the medicinal uses of raspberry are the same as those of blackberry but in addition that: “its flower helps far more for eye inflammations when triturated with oil and smeared over them; it also cools erysipelas and it is given in a drink with water to those with stomach problems” (Hummer 2010: 1588). In a 14th century manuscript the Meddygion Myddvai, which was compiled by the Physicians of Myddvai[v], raspberry leaves are listed as a treatment for ague, eye problems, fevers, mouth sores and wounds (Wagner et al. 2017). In addition, raspberries were used as a flavouring for beer during the Medieval period; in her book Food and Drink in Medieval Poland Debińska describes the various alcoholic beverages that were consumed:The annual cellar inventories of the Teutonic Knights surpass those of the Polish kings in fine luxury beers from Gdansk, Elblag and other Baltic towns, as well as many barrels of mead, wine, wine must, and sour cherry wine. They also had supplies of raspberry and plum juice, which were added to beer and mead to improve their flavour” (Debińska 1999: 77-78; see also Behre 1999).


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[i] From where raspberry’s species name ‘idaeus’ originated (Thanos n.d.: 9).
[ii] For a description of the depositional processes at pile-dwelling settlements, see separate entry for Blackberry.
[iii] The castle was built under a massive rock shelter and this was the reason why so much of the organic materials was preserved (for more details see Janosa 1993).

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