Rubus Herb of the Year


Collectively, the members of the genus Rubus are the Herb of the Year for 2020. Rubus includes raspberry, blackberry, and other berries less well known. These are the red, blue, purple and black nuggets of tangy goodness we devour in pies, puddings, sauces, ice cream, crepes and smoothies. The sweet-tart-floral taste and the sheer juiciness of the berries is pure pleasure. And should pure pleasure ever need justification, we can smugly declare that these berries possess potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that protect our health and may even extend our lives.

But why are these berry plants considered herbs? It may surprise some to know that these plants are medicinal. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Greek physician, Dioscorides, wrote that a decoction of blackberry tops "stops the flows of the intestines," a reference to the plant’s ability to stop diarrhea. He added that it also "restrains the excessive menstruation of women," another known healing property of the plant. Even earlier, the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, recommended soaking the leaves and stems in white wine and applying that as an poultice on bleeding wounds. Today, science tells us that the leaves and stems raspberry and blackberry are rich in highly astringent tannins, and the astringent effect helps to tighten up loose bowels, sagging wombs, and open wounds, thus stanching the "flows".

Evidence of the earliest use of Rubus as food dates back 8,000 years, soon after the Ice Age. With more than 700 species found growing on six continents, there is little doubt that Rubus was a food source for hunters and gatherers pretty much everywhere. The cultivation of Rubus for food use is much more recent, however, becoming widespread in Europe only 500 years ago.

Thanks to desegregation, Rubus plants are happily found amongst a diversity of flowers, veggies and herbs in today’s gardens. But they are not small nor tidy, and they need some elbow room. Red raspberries need to be spaced 2-3ft (60-90cm) apart; black raspberries need 3ft (90cm); and blackberries 4-5ft (120-150cm). They are all hardy perennial shrubs and grow best in well-drained soil and full sun, though they can tolerate some shade. Other than occasional pruning and perhaps some trellis support for the canes, they need little special care.

Thanks to the Herb of the Year program of the International Herb Association, a program intended to educate the public about the value and uses of selected herbs, we at Richters are celebrating Rubus’ time under the sun in 2020. In its honour, we added some of the most important and most loved Rubus herbs (and berry plants!) for you to try.


Here are the currently available varieties of Rubus!


Triple Crown Blackberry

Like the wild blackberry, not only is this improved blackberry a delicious fruit, it is also medicinal. The astringent leaves and roots are excellent for dysentery, diarrhea, hemorrhoids and cystitus. A gargle made by boiling the leaves is a good mouthwash for sore throat, mouth ulcers, gum inflammation and thrush. The antiseptic leaves can be applied as a poultice to skin for ulcers, fungal infections and abscesses. Studies have shown that blackberry can be used for the management of diabetes mellitus. This improved ‘Triple Crown’ variety is thornless and bears large juicy berries over an extended 5 week period. Order it now!


Wild Blackberry

Blackberry is not only a fruit, it has a long history of use as a medicinal herb. The Greek physician Hippocrates soaked the leaves in white wine for difficult childbirth and to apply to wounds. The leaves, and especially the roots, are strong astringents and are excellent for the treatment of dysentery, diarrhea, hemorrhoids and cystitus. A gargle made by boiling the leaves makes a good mouthwash for sore throat, mouth ulcers, gum inflammation and thrush. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to skin for ulcers, fungal infections and abscesses. Studies have shown that the plant is a potent antibacterial and the leaves can be used for the management of diabetes mellitus. Order it now!


Red Raspberry

One of a group of thorny plants traditionally referred to as brambles. It has been used as a food and as a medicinal plant since ancient times as documented by the Greeks and Romans. It has long been an important herb in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine also. The leaves are used during pregnancy as a uterine tonic and to prepare for labour, helping to control contractions while minimizing blood loss. Also useful as an astringent for treating diarrhea and leukorrhea on account of its high tannin content. Easy to grow in any sunny spot. Order it now!


Black Raspberry

A delicious native berry found throughout northeastern North America. Its flavour is really special: sweet, slightly tart, with an agreeable added complexity unique to this species. The berries start out red but turn deep purple-black as they accumulate anthocyanins. These pigments are powerful antioxidants with anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. The roots and leaves were used by First Nations peoples for coughs, toothache, ulcers, gonorrhea, diarrhea and dysentery. Thrives in any sunny or partly sunny location. Ht. 90-120cm (3-4ft). Order it now!


Flowering Raspberry

Attractive native shrub of woodland areas in northeastern North America. The fragrant flowers are a bright pink-purple and the broad leaves are shaped like a maple leaf. Berries are edible and tasty though not as juicy as other raspberries. They are also a magnet for wildlife. The astringent leaves are useful for diarrhea and dysentery and as a wash for sores and boils. Also used for kidney complaints. Ht. 1m/3ft. Order it now!



Last year’s Herb of the Year for 2019 was Agastache!

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