Photo by Sue Weaver
Katy the goat and our farm's other moms eat blackberry leaves to help with pregnancy.
Mom was gazing out the window at the snow this morning and wondering when spring will come to the Ozarks. She wants to gather wild blackberry leaves for our ewes because she fed last year's supply to my girlfriend, Katy. Usually they're ready to pick by mid-April. This year they might be late.
Mom feeds dried blackberry leaves to our pregnant animals because wild red raspberries don't grow in the Ozarks. Blackberry plants are closely related to red raspberry plants, and the plants' leaves have similar herbal qualities. Mom learned about this when she worked for the Minnesota Historical Society and a pregnant Native American lady told her about wild-red-raspberry tea. She said her grandmothers and their grandmothers for many generations drank nourishing red-raspberry tea throughout their pregnancies so they'd have easier labor and more milk to feed their babies after they were born. That piqued Mom's curiosity, so she read up on the subject. This is what she learned:
Red raspberry leaves are a source of vitamins A, B complex, C and E, along with easily assimilated calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. They also contain fragrine, which helps tone the uterus and pelvic muscles. In folk medicine, red-raspberry leaves are said help prevent miscarriage, ease morning sickness, reduce pain during and after labor, increase labor speed, and assist in breast-milk. According to the American Pregnancy Association, medical studies have shown that red-raspberry-leaf tea can be safely consumed during pregnancy.
Although no real data exists on red-raspberry leaves' affects on livestock, animal breeders feed them to their pregnant females, too. Mom decided to experiment: She had a mare named Keira who never passed her placenta in a timely manner after giving birth. A veterinarian had to come give Keira a shot every time, so Mom gathered wild-red-raspberry leaves and fed a handful to Keira every day during the last five weeks she was in foal. Keira gave birth very quickly, and 10 minutes later, her placenta plopped out.
The next year, Mom and Dad moved to the Ozarks, and Mom had to gather blackberry leaves instead. That year Keira's placenta passed as she got to her feet after giving birth. Mom was impressed! Since then, she's given dried blackberry leaves to my pregnant girlfriends and our pregnant ewes. In eight years there's been only one difficult birth.
Maybe you'd like to harvest wild red raspberry or wild blackberry leaves for your pregnant animals? First talk to your vet to make sure this is a safe option for your animals. Then use these tips for harvesting, storing and feeding red-raspberry or blackberry leaves:
Leaves must be gathered before plants bloom, so harvest takes place in the early spring. Don't harvest in the morning until dew is off of the leaves. Wild red-raspberry and blackberry plants have strong, sharp stickers on their canes, so you should wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and leather gloves. To harvest leaves, grasp the end of a cane where the new leaves are, and strip them off, dropping them into a bag, bucket or basket. Take along some duct tape to reinforce your gloves because stripping leaves quickly wears them out.
When you're finished harvesting for the day, spread the leaves in a single layer on newspaper in a shady, well-ventilated spot in your house or barn. Stir the leaves every day so they dry evenly. It usually takes three to six days for them to dry until they're crisp.
After they're dry, sort or store the leaves. Mom stores them in cardboard boxes and sorts them in the winter when she has more time. Sorting is the hard part because you have to make sure no prickles remain to injure your animals' mouths. Don't powder the leaves; try to keep them mostly intact. Store them in paper bags, cardboard boxes or glass jars, not in metal or plastic. Place storage containers in a cool place out of the sun.
Begin feeding leaves at least a month before your animals give birth. Mom feeds ewes and does a small handful in their food; a mare or cow needs more.
You can also buy dried red-raspberry leaves in bulk at food co-ops that carry herbs, but Mom says harvesting them yourself is a lot less expensive and much more rewarding.
Do you have a livestock or wildlife question you want me to answer? Send me your question!
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