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The 2009 ASHS Annual Conference

Rubus Pharmacology: Antiquity to the Present

Sunday, July 26, 2009: 4:20 PM
Field (Millennium Hotel St. Louis)
Kim E. Hummer, USDA-ARS-NCGR, Corvallis, OR
The genus Rubus L., indigenous to six continents, includes blackberries, raspberries and their hybrids, and is commonly referred to as brambles or briers. Rubus species provided food for native peoples soon after the ice age. Medicinal and food uses for brambles were documented in Greek (Aeschylus, Hippocrates, Krataeus, Dioscorides, and Galen) and Roman (Pliny the Elder, Pompey, and Palladius) sources, and in Asian medicinal texts. Although in modern times Rubus is grown for its delicious and vitamin-rich fruit for fresh and processed product consumption, the ancients used the whole plant and its parts. Stems, branches, roots, leaves, and flowers were used in decoctions, infusions, plasters, oil or wine extractions, and condensates. Decoctions of branches were applied to stop diarrhea, dye hair, prevent vaginal discharge, and as an anti-venom for snake bites. Leaves were chewed to strengthen gums and plastered to constrain shingles, head scurf, prolapsed eyes, and hemorrhoids. Flowers triturated with oil reduced eye inflammations and cooled skin rashes; infusions with water or wine aided stomach ailments. Greeks recorded female applications, while the Chinese described uses in male disorders.  The fruits of R. chingii, is combined in a yang tonic, called fu pen zi, "overturned fruit bowl," and prescribed it for infertility, impotence, low backache, poor eyesight, and bedwetting or frequent urination. The Leech Book of Bald described its use against dysentery combining ancient medicinal knowledge with pagan superstition and herb lore. Medicinal properties of Rubus continued in Renaissance and modern herbals, sanctioning leaf infusions as a gargle for sore mouth, throat cankers, and as a wash for wounds; the bark containing tannin, was a tonic for diarrhea; root extract a cathartic and emetic. Recent research reports high ellagic acid, anthocyanin, total phenolics, and total antioxidant content in Rubus fruits. Fruit extracts have long been used as colorants, and are now being tested as anti-carcinogenic, anti-viral, anti-allergenic, and cosmetic moisturizing compounds. Medicinal properties of Rubus championed by Ancient herbalists, medieval druids, and folk medicine practitioners, are now promoted by present day nutritionists.