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Rubus Idaeus (red raspberries), and Rubus Occidentalis (black raspberries) are a delicately sweet fruit belonging to the Rosaceae family. The raspberry plant requires nominal maintenance and provides ample amounts of fruit. A row of raspberry plants ten feet long can provide sufficient fresh fruit to enjoy during the in-season, with plenty left over to freeze or turn into preserves. The plants are perennial roots that produce biennial shoots. They grow during the first year of planting and yield fruit in the second year. The original shoots die after fruiting and new ones take their place to start the process anew.

Raspberries are found growing on five continents with over 200 species. Other than red and black, they are available in shades of purple, white and yellow. The purple raspberry is created by crossing the red and black raspberries, while the yellow one is a genetic mutation occurring in the red berries.  Black raspberries are frequently confused with blackberries even though they are very different. Raspberries have a hollow middle and are more fragile, whereas blackberries are larger and have their center plugged in.

Raspberries tend to be on the pricey side for a number of reasons. Due to their softness they are highly perishable, and they also bruise easily making them difficult to ship. Furthermore, the raspberry is a hard fruit to pick. They have a short life in the refrigerator too, but when washed and dried with care, they can be frozen easily enough. This is done by setting them individually on a cookie sheet then allowing them to freeze. Once frozen, simply transfer into freezer bags. In this way they can last for up to one year.

History of Raspberries

Archaeological evidence shows that Paleolithic (early Stone Age) cave man also enjoyed raspberries, and they have been a part of the human diet ever since. However, documentation by Palladius indicates that cultivation did not start until the 4th century AD. During the Hellenistic period (from roughly 323 BCE to middle of first century BCE), raspberries were linked with fertility. In Greek mythology, all berries were at one time white, but Zeus’ nursemaid, Ida, got her finger pricked and the blood stained the berries red. According to legend, that is how they have remained ever since. The name Rubus Idaeus translates to “bramble bush of Ida”, taking into account both the mountain on which they grew and the nursemaid. Back then, the berries were not enjoyed as they are today. The roots and blossom of the plant were primarily used to make eye ointments, teas for stomach conditions, treating throat conditions, and as an astringent.

It is believed that the Romans introduced raspberries to all of Europe, but it was the English who first cultivated and hybridized them during the Middle Ages, thus improving them. While it is believed that the raspberry plant was prized for its fruit, it was more than likely valued for the leaves, which had long been used in medicinal preparations. Raspberry leaves are used in herbal teas even today, for soothing the digestive system and providing relief from menstrual cramps.  Raspberry juice was also employed in art work during the Middle Ages as red stain. King Edward I promoted the cultivation of raspberries throughout England in the 13th century.

European settlers took raspberries to America in the 1700s. The black raspberry is indigenous to North America only, and is found growing abundantly in the east. Domestic cultivation of black raspberries was delayed until the 1800s. This was because the red raspberries brought in from England were extremely popular and considered a luxury item at that point. George Washington cultivated raspberries at Mount Vernon, and at the time of Civil War there were 40 varieties growing in the country.

Health Benefits of Raspberries

Besides being absolutely delicious, raspberries offer a number of health benefits due to the nutritional content of the fruit. They are great for helping one to lose weight. The high content of dietary fibre in raspberries helps to slow the digestive process, so one feels fuller for longer, while the trace mineral manganese maintains a high metabolic rate which assists fat burning.

Raspberries eliminate wrinkles like magic. A natural face mask made with one half a cup of yoghurt and one cup of raspberries, applied to the face for 15 minutes, provides a glowing skin and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The antioxidant intensity of vitamin C removes age spots and discoloration.   Age related macular degeneration can lead to loss of vision due to damaged retina. It occurs in two forms ‘wet’ and ‘dry’. Three servings of raspberries a day can help to improve this condition.

Raspberries are full of antioxidants, among them ellagic acid, which helps to avert cell damage by countering the effect of free radicals. The flavonoid molecules found in raspberries also have antimicrobial properties that cut down the excessive growth of certain types of bacteria and fungi that can lead to vaginal infections and irritable bowel syndrome. Raspberries also have the potential to block cancer cell propagation in various parts of the body, including the colon. The phytonutrients and antioxidants found in raspberries promote a healthy immune system enabling it to better fight disease.

Raspberries are good for overall female health. Tea made from raspberry leaves helps to regulate the menstrual cycles, and decrease excessive menstrual flow.  The teas also help to relieve nausea during pregnancy, stop hemorrhaging, minimize pain, and aid during childbirth. For lactating mothers raspberry tea helps to enhance breast milk production.

Xylitol is a low-calorie sugar found in raspberries. It contains only 9.6 calories as compared to 15 calories in sugar. Xylitol is absorbed more slowly by the intestines and is better than sugar for people suffering from diabetes. The high content of fibre (21% of the recommended daily requirement for men and 31% for women) in raspberries helps to keep cholesterol in check

Nutritional Value

Raspberries are an excellent source of some essential vitamins. One cup of raspberries provides 9.6 micrograms of vitamin K and 32.2 milligrams of vitamin C. Vitamin K helps to heal wounds by aiding in blood clotting and with formation of bone, while vitamin C is an important antioxidant. One serving of raspberries also contains 111 micrograms of copper and 0.82 milligrams of manganese. Copper functions like an antioxidant to avert DNA damage, and the production of red blood cells and manganese regulates blood sugar levels and metabolism of carbohydrates.

Raspberries are one of the ten best antioxidant-supplying foods. Anthocyanins are a group of flavanoids that, besides being responsible for the colour in the berries, aids in the prevention of heart disease and dementia. Pale coloured berries, like yellow raspberries, have significantly lower amounts of anthocyanins. The soaring amounts of ellagic and gallic acids, along with cyanidins, catechins, quercetin, and pelargonidins in the berries, equip the fruit with cancer-fighting abilities.  Other nutrients found in raspberries include vitamin B-6, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid which aid in maintaining the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. They are also rich in potassium, iron and magnesium. Potassium is necessary in controlling blood pressure and heart rate, while iron is needed to carry oxygen to all parts of the body.

How to Use Raspberries

Raspberries can be enjoyed in a large number of ways, but because they are very fragile they do need to be handled with care. They should be used within a day or two of purchase, and should be washed just before consumption or preparation for a recipe so that they don’t become water-logged. Also, raspberries should not be left standing at room temperature for too long or they will go bad very quickly. Overly soft berries should only be used in sauces or coulis which require them to be pureed.

Some fast serving ways to enjoy this tasty fruit include:

  • Mixed with porridge for a nutritious start to the day.
  • Sprinkling fresh raspberries with balsamic vinegar is a sure way to send your palate into seventh heaven.
  • Combined with plain yoghurt and lightly sweetened with honey.
  • Make raspberry coulis and use as sauce with poultry dishes.

One of the best and perhaps most loved ways to enjoy raspberries it to make sorbets out of them. The beautiful deep purplish colour and sweet tart flavour is a major attraction for young and old alike. To prepare the sorbet puree, put either fresh or frozen raspberries into a blender with sugar and lemon juice to taste. Blend until smooth, strain the mixture into a bowl, then cover and freeze for a few hours. It makes a great snack or dessert for a summer party.

Clinical Trials

According to statistics compiled by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, and the second most common cause of cancer related deaths. Studies conducted at the University of Illinois in Chicago, have found that diets supplemented with black raspberries produced protective effects and obstructed the formation of tumours in the intestine, colon, and rectum.

Raspberries contain several known chemo-preventive agents like vitamins, phytosterols, minerals and flavonoids, which helps berries in interceding at all stages of cancerous development. Studies have found that components in berries cut down on oxidant and carcinogen stimulated damage to cells and promote DNA repair. Nutrients in berries are effective against esophagus, colon, and oral cavity cancer.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over one-third of the adult population in the US is obese. This translates into billions of dollars in medical costs related to obesity. Researchers are working nonstop to find safe and successful weight-loss products. One such item is the raspberry ketone. It is believed that the ketone in raspberries stimulates the production of the hormone adiponectin, which gives a powerful boost to fatty acids oxidation and glucose regulation. It also inhibits the accumulation of fats, so this just may be the weight loss product everyone is looking for.

About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Dr. Andy Williams is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter.

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