Raspberry leaf contains an important nutrient that is very beneficial to the reproductive organs in both humans and animals and when used in pregnancy can assist in labor and delivery, causing more effective muscle contractions for birth. When I was pregnant, I was also told by my midwife that drinking raspberry leaf tea would help support a healthy delivery. I came across similar advice for the care of pregnant goats. Goats love to eat the leaves, and they may even enjoy a bucket of lightly brewed tea. Raspberry leaves are considered an excellent browse plant for goat health. We like to offer various plants, herbs and forages to nurture our goats’ health especially during the winter months when they aren’t able to browse. It’s a great supplemental herb, very nutritious, and if it really does help with kidding as claimed, that’s a huge bonus.
We have a sizable raspberry patch along the south side of an old building where the rain falls from the roof right into our raspberry bed, giving the plants extra water which they love in addition to the warm, afternoon sun. We started with a few plants, and they quickly spread shoots out filling the beds, even trying to move out into the lawn. If you’re planning to buy raspberry plants, be sure to do your research and buy the kind that spread, if that’s what you want. Another variety we planted does not send out shoots and hasn’t moved at all, but comes up near the same stump every year. We don’t get many leaves off them, and very little berries either.
To start harvesting raspberry leaves, you’ll need to have a few basic items.
- Kitchen Scissors or pruning shears
- rope or twine string
- garden gloves(raspberry plants have thorned stalks)
- wheel barrow, optional
- coffee cans, or gallon ziplock bags(to store leaves after dried)
I suggest wearing a denim, long sleeved shirt, as you may get scuffed up a bit from reaching in to snip the stems off. A clean wheel barrow may also be helpful to throw the cuttings into as you clip to easily transport them if want to bind them in another area, perhaps in the shade so you don’t have to work in the sun the whole time.
I like to use baler twine, because I always have it on hand. It’s a staple around our place and great for quick fix-ups to postpone repairs until I have time to get to them. It has so many handy uses. I have braided it for a DIY dog leash to save a few pennies, braided rope for swings, rigged a pocket-sized halter for a hard to catch horse, tied a gate shut when the latch or chain broke, strung it up for a temporary clothesline when my dryer quit, used it in the garden to make straight rows, and the list goes on. It won’t last forever, but it’s pretty tough stuff because it’s obviously made to bind hay bales together, and they can typically set for 3 years or more in full sun and weather. You can buy it at a local farm supply store. It usually comes in a box of two rolls. If you don’t want to store it, bless a friend with the extra roll. Unless you go wild, one roll lasts a good while. A little tip: there are different sizes of twine. I like to use twine made for square balers, because it is a little heavier duty. But round baler twine works great too.
You’ll want to time it right when clipping your raspberry plants, because if done late season when the stalks are becoming woody it can result in killing the whole stalk, and you don’t want to do that(speaking from experience). The roots will be fine and produce new stalks next year, but you will halt the production and possibly skip a year of fruit bearing. Raspberry plants have a one year new growth phase and will not produce fruit until the second year. If you can identify which are which in your patch, you will want to be cutting from the new growth from this year, just snipping off 6-12 inches of the tops to desired height. Don’t cut them clear down to the ground or they will most likely start back at square one next year and go through another non-fruit bearing growth phase.
I begin cutting around mid-June here in Montana. I am just beginning my second clipping for this year about a month after the first harvest. At this point, the fruit bearing stalks have begun to blossom, giving themselves away as the 2nd year stalks. I won’t touch those ones! If you start harvesting earlier, perhaps late spring, you might get away with snipping the fruit bearing stalks as well as the new growth, just don’t go too short. In the above photo, these plants are being clipped to about knee height or a little taller, as this is about how tall I want them to remain. If you don’t stake them, they start tipping over if left to themselves to keep growing. Harvesting raspberry leaves is really like killing two birds with one stone(forgive the analogy)because they need trimmed anyway, and I get the benefit of harvesting the tops for a useful purpose. Win, Win!
If you’re planning to save some leaves for tea, you may choose to wash the leaves first, and alternatively hang indoors away from bugs and dust, though there may be some added benefit to sun drying outdoors and this is the method I prefer. For binding them, I do about 3-4 stalks per bunch, making a loop around the stalks just above a leaf stem so that they don’t slip off as they dry and shrink, tie a not, leaving a tail of about 12 inches on one string. The 12 inch tail gives me enough to easily go around my hang line while being able to tie a slop knot loop to make removing them easier after dried.
I like to repurpose and use what’s on hand, and since I consume a ridiculous amount of coffee, there are always coffee containers around. I sometimes spray-paint mine with a thin coat, just enough to barely cover and sometimes get extra creative and use acrylic paint for lettering or designs, then use a light coat of clear spray paint to protect it. But there’s nothing wrong with a plain old, unpainted coffee can. But if that seems primitive to you, you can use gallon ziplock bags or even buy fancy glass canisters to display them in(out of sunlight). Air tight seal is recommended.
Drying time depends on weather and temperatures. Mine typically will be dry enough after a week or two if it’s clear and dry, warm weather. Better safe than sorry, but you don’t want to leave them hanging for weeks and weeks or they may lose some nutritional value. The leaves may have a sort of tough, papery feel and may not really crumble even when dried sufficiently, but if you doubt your own judgement, wait until they are crumbly as dust. I like to get mine in cans as soon as possible, so at times mine are not super crumbly but I know they are still safe for storing. Longer isn’t always best, it’s just a matter of preference and experience. If you want to preserve the STALKS as well for a nutritious tea brew for your goats in the cold winter months, you will want to make sure they are very dry.
When you’re sure the stems and leaves are dry enough, pull the slip knots and take them to a table or working area. You are going to need your kitchen scissors or pruning shears. A lighter pair of gloves may be helpful, but I use my bare hands and just don’t grip too hard, so i usually get away with very few prickles. Cut or snap off the leaf stems, all the way to the base of the leaf. You only want the leaf, no stem. If stems are left on, they present a hazard to your goats because they easily get lodged in a cheek or jaw inside the goats mouth which often results in a “lump jaw” infection which can be a serious condition. Clipping each stem off may seem time consuming, but it’s well worth the effort. Turn on some music and get clipping! This is a great job for your “break time” during a busy day, it’s a bit laid back and restful, but you are accomplishing something in the meantime.
If you find a few under-dried leaves, you can place them on a cookie sheet and let sit a couple more days to continue drying. Even if they seem dry, but you’re thinking you may have jumped the gun, you can put them all into a cardboard box and turn them once in awhile over a week or two just as an extra precaution. You don’t want to take any chances of mold in your containers.
I put a strip of masking tape with the date and contents on the containers, because I like to preserve multiple herbs this way, and it makes for easier access at a glance to what I need.
But what about the stalks? Well, I don’t really know what nutritional value they may have, but I will tell you two things that I do with them.
Option #1 Cut stalks into 2 inch pieces, toss them into a large pot, add water, cover and boil into a raspberry stalk tea, which I then cool and freeze in ice cube trays & store in ziplock bags in my freezer, adding a few to the goats’ water on hot summer days. The “tea” as it boils has a rather pleasant, berry-like smell. Throw away the boiled stalks or compost them.
Option # 2 After cutting stalks into 2 inch pieces, store in an airtight container until ready to brew for your goats. In the cold winter months this makes a nutritious sip to keep your goats warm and cozy. Use in moderation, and be sure to provide their normal plain water as well so they aren’t forced to drink the tea if their body doesn’t need it.
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