Common Name: Blackberry | Scientific Name: Rubus Villosus

Family: Rosaceae

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Eclectic Notes
Chapter from Healing Plants of the Bible


Eclectic Notes

RUBUS VILLOSUS

ROSACEAE

BLACKBERRY

1883: Scudder

These agents are described as astringent, tonic, diuretic, detergent, and nervine. They possess many properties in common, but as they differ in others , it is well to give the therapeutic action of each a separate description.

Rubus villosus: the bark of the root of the blackberry is a very valuable astringent. It has long been a popular remedy in atonic bowels complaints, is highly extolled by many of the late writers for its efficacy in chronic dysentery, diarrhea, and cholera infantum.

rubus trivialis: the roots of the dewberry are closely analogous to those of the blackberry, in their medicinal properties. They posses astringent qualities in a higher degree than the blackberry. they are employed indiscriminately in place of that agent.


Chapter from Healing Plants of the Bible

Black Berry

Rubus sanguineous

Rosacea

Numbers 33:55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as pricks in you eyes and thorns to your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.

Judges 8:7 Then I shall tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers,and he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness, and briers , and with them he taught the men of succuoth.

Isaiah 7:23 and it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines…it shall even be for briers and thorns…all the land shall become briers and thorns, and on all hills that shall be digged with mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers and thorns.

Isaiah 9:18 for wickedness burneth as fire, it shall devour the briers and thorns.

Proverbs 22:5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse, he who guards himself will keep far from them.

Luke 6:44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.

The black berry bush is a mixed pleasure, it produces delicious berries, and while you are picking them, it fills your hand with thorns that take forever to pick out. Every rose has its thorn and this quite true with the blackberry. The verses in the Bible overlook the fruit and concentrate on this thorny nature. Like Artemisia, the blackberry is not depicted in the most flattering light.

The Bible contains some rather interesting statements, not least of which is the one found in Numbers 33:55. We read that if you take over somebodies lands, you better drive them out completely, or, they will be a permanent source of pain. Perhaps the Puritans based their policy towards the Native Americans on these lines. In any case, when you find the blackberry or bramble in the Bible, you will see it as a symbol of pain and suffering. Walking through a bramble patch is painful and always has been an uncomfortable experience. Blackberries were another sybmol of suffering.

Though we do not find kind words for the blackberry in the verses, we do know that the ancient Israelites collected the fruit and used the plant in medicine. The plant is widely distributed and can be found growing around the world. It is native to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Before the age of international travel, there were three separate species of blackberries, one living on each of these three continents. As the world became connected by international trade routes, the different blackberries travelled with men and made themselves comfortable in foreign lands. Birds helped the foreign blackberries mix with the natives and the result has been that all three continents have a blackberry population of mixed ancestry.

The “blackberry” story is even more complicated as there are a number of closely related plants that bear blackberry like fruits. There is a lot of confusion as to what the difference is between blackberries,raspberries, dewberries, loganberries, wineberries, etc. Before we move onto the medicinal actions of the plant we need to establish the relationship between these plants.

This needs some clarification for a few reasons. Firstly, these “blackberry like” fruits are used interchangeably in herbal medicine. This causes some confusion amongst people new to herbal medicine as one book recommends blackberry leaves and the next recommends dewberry leaves. Secondly, the names for these thorny fruit producing cane vary from region to region. Some gardeners will tell you that blackberries are thorny and have blackberries and raspberries have smooth canes and red berries. The truth is the words raspberry and blackberry don’t mean much in the world of Botany. I prefer to call them thornberries for reasons you will soon discover.

Blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, etc, belong to the family Rubus which has 250 members, all of which are quite similar. The Rubus family members all produce canes, have some degree of thorniness, and produce a blackberry like fruit. The members of this family are all so closely related that they can interbreed. The Rubus family is like the dog family. There are all different kinds of dogs, but push come to shove, poodles can breed with dobermans. Many of the thornberries we grow commercially are crosses between different members of the family. Loganberries and tayberries are two such crossed berries. Rubus members interbreed in the wild and if you have a patch of thornberries growing wild near you, chances are they will be a mix of a number of different thorn berries.

In terms of the chemical constituents of the Rubus family members, they contain similar chemicals in greater and lesser amounts, depending on the variety. For this reason, if you read of raspberries and blackberries in old herbal medical texts, you will see them used interchangeably. In the coming pages you will read of experts talking about both berries, don’t be confused. If you have blackberries, use them, if you have raspberries, use them.

The Blackberry has been a medical staple since man first walked the earth and noticed the bush. If the average American living in the year 1996 was interviewed they would be unable to make a list of the medicinal actions of the blackberry. One hundred years ago, all Americans knew that if they had a case of diarrhoea, the blackberry would be the perfect cure. Joe American, at the time, knew that the thornberry family was an astringing group of plants, able to dry up a case of diarrhoea. Raspberries, blackberries, dewberries, and the like were used to dry congestion, diarrhoea, or weeping wounds.

This is an incredibly ancient use and Maimonides pointed out that blackberry would sort out the stomach, “Among the things which most greatly benefit the stomach are those intermediate between bitter and astringent in their quality such as blackberry bushes. All astringent things are beneficial to the stomach in most instances.” Thornberry bush use in digestive ills was common, common knowledge in the past.

As the white colonials marched their way west on the North American continent, they came into contact with a lot of bacteria. Bacteria that they had not experienced before and that usually caused diarrhoea. Dysentery, the pathological form of diarrhoea, was one of the leading causes of death on the American frontier. Fortunately, for the colonials, the blackberry was an old European treatment for diarrhoea. Gerard, writing in England in 1600 said this of it, “The young buds or tender tops of the bramble bush, the floures, the leaves, and the unripe fruit, do very much dry and bind withall, being chewed they take away the heat and inflammation of the mouth, and almonds of the throat, they stay the bloody flix, and other fluxes, and all manner of bleedings, of the same force is their decoction, with a little honey added.” The European colonials knew how to use blackberries before they arrived in North America.

Even more fortunately for the colonials, as they trudged their way in the new world, they got a handful of thorns along the way. The wild American blackberry was everywhere and was easily collected to dry the bowel evacuations. The Europeans felt the blackberry was drying in nature and capable of drying a flooding gastro-intestinal tract. During the Colonial days, doctors were a luxury that most could not afford, that is if you could find one. Doctoring was the job of the wife and mother of the house. Mothers kept dried blackberry leaves with them when on the trail to stop a case of diarrhoea before it killed.

In the Pharmacopoeia of Vegetable Drugs, a Dr.Loydd had this to say of the plant, “The roots of the various species as well as varieties are more or less astringent and have been used in domestic medicine from the days of Americas first settlement. The Cherokee Indians chewed the root of this plant and swallowed the saliva for a cough, probably due to its astringency being helpful to the throat membranes. They also used a poultice of it for piles, in which direction its mild astringency seems rationally to adapt it. A syrup of blackberry root has been a great favourite in some sections of the country as a remedy for dysentery. This use of the drug in domestic medicine, in which it has always been valued in America, led finally to its employment by the members of the medical profession.”

As people travelled around the world they brought with them tricks from their native lands and picked up the local tricks of the trade. The Europeans used the leaves of the blackberry to treat diarrhoea, but here we see they learned of using the roots from the Native Americans. The colonials showed their appreciation of the life saving information by shooting the source of the helpful hints. Oops.

When America became a little more established as a country, medical schools opened and doctors became a little more accessible. American doctors used thornberries as had prairie mothers. The doctors recommend using the leaves, roots, and the fruits for medicine. A. W. Chase, M.D., in this book of recipes published in 1884, quoted one of his colleagues on the use of blackberry for diarrhoea, “Professor King in speaking of the fruit of this berry family, in which the red raspberry, dewberry, etc. are all included, says: the fruit, especially that of the blackberry, is of much service in dysentery, being pleasant to the taste, mitigating (easing) the accompanying tenesmus (griping and straining) and suffering of the patient, and ultimately effecting a cure. Blackberry syrup has cured cases of dysentery, even after physicians had despaired of a cure.”

The source of blackberries affectivity in diarrhoea is tannins. The blackberry is another member of the Rosacea tribe which is rich in tannins. Tannins have an astringing action or a drying action on cells. On the skin of a dead cow, they makes the skin harder and more able to withstand stress. Tannins are used to convert skin into leather. Tannins do the same thing in your gut. When you have diarrhoea the problem is that the cells lining the gut are haemorrhaging fluid, the end result being diarrhoea instead of nicely formed stools. The tannins go in there and dry up those cells and the fluid stops flowing. Normally diarrhoea is caused by some bacterial invader. Tannins have the same drying effect on bacteria, it dries them up like a raisin and spells the end of their trouble making activity.

In Dr. Chase’s book he gives a prescription for a diarrhoea syrup which works as well today as it did when he wrote his book in 1874, “Take 4 ounces blackberry root, 2 ounces bayberry bark, 1 ounce cranes bill root, 1 ounce cinnamon root, 1/2 ounce myrrh, 1/2 ounce cloves, 1/4 ounce fennel seed, and simmer all in 2 quarts water until reduced to 1 quart. Strain. Add 1 pound sugar. Take 1 Tablespoon every hour on the hour until condition subsides.”

The prairie mothers used blackberry to prepare themselves for childbirth. The sad reality of pioneer life was that many women delivered their own babies, alone, and without any medical assistance. A lot of them died in the process. One trick they learned from their Native American sisters was that if you drank blackberry tea every day during your pregnancy, you were more likely to have a safe uncomplicated delivery. If you got in trouble during your delivery you were in trouble. Women drank lots of blackberry tea.

The native Americans said that the leaf of blackberry and raspberry, when taken regularly, insured a safe birth. Taking it during pregnancy was said to stimulate strong contractions in labour. It was used stimulate contractions when the uterus had grown tired unable to maintain contractions during delivery. The Obijwe tribe used it to stop threatened miscarriage in women who had worked too hard in the field, a common occurrence. Lastly, it was used to stop excessive blood flow, after delivery or from routine menstruation.

I will add that in 1996, at the Balham Clinic of Herbal Medicine, in London, England, raspberry leaves are still used as a partus preparator, or birth preparer with great success. Women are advised to start taking it after their first trimester and to keep with it until the delivery. The patients that use it speak highly of it and practitioners of herbal medicine in England swear by it.

In the modern world, the blackberry or raspberry is still used on a regular basis for purposes that we find suggested by the ancients. Stuart Fitzsimmons, the Welsh Herbalist, said this of the plant, “The leaves of Raspberry are astringent. They are mild and make an treatment for diarrhoea in children. For childrens diarrhoea, make a tea of the fresh leaves. Put five leaves in a pint of boiling water, let it steep, finish the pint over a day. Adults can use the tea, but it is not terribly strong. I would say it is “Childs Strength” diarrhoea treatment. The same tea is used by pregnant women to make child birth easier. Raspberry leaf tea used in the last three months of pregnancy aids in the delivery process, its daily use insures a swift delivery, something every women wants. The astringency of the plant affects the uterus, making it strong and capable of healthy contractions. It will also reduces the tendency to haemorrhage after the child has been delivered.”

All over North America, thornberries can be found in great abundance. The roots, leaves and fruits can be used safely for the purposes we have discussed. The best news is the medicine is free for the picking. The only provisio being that you need to make certain the thornberries have not been sprayed by herbicide or pesticide.


Eclectic Notes

RUBUS VILLOSUS

ROSACEAE

BLACKBERRY

1883: Scudder

These agents are described as astringent, tonic, diuretic, detergent, and nervine. They possess many properties in common, but as they differ in others , it is well to give the therapeutic action of each a separate description.

Rubus villosus: the bark of the root of the blackberry is a very valuable astringent. It has long been a popular remedy in atonic bowels complaints, is highly extolled by many of the late writers for its efficacy in chronic dysentery, diarrhea, and cholera infantum.

rubus trivialis: the roots of the dewberry are closely analogous to those of the blackberry, in their medicinal properties. They posses astringent qualities in a higher degree than the blackberry. they are employed indiscriminately in place of that agent.

rubus strigosus: the leaves of the red raspberry are mildly astringent, somewhat tonic, with some aromatic properties. As an agreeable, pleasant, and acceptable agent to the stomach, we have no astringent surpassing the red raspberry.

As a mild and agreeable astringent, it is found very useful in the ordinary summer complaints of children. It may be used in combination with cinnamon, in cholera infantum, diarrhea, secondary stages of dysentery, and also in atonic and relaxed states of the intestinal exhalants.

1911: Fyfe

Atonic conditions of the gastro-intestinal tract,accompanied by excessive discharges;passive hemorrhage from the stomach, bowels or uterus. Indications for this agent are frequently seen in cholera infantum, diarrhea and dysentery. Rubus villosus is tonic and astringent.



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