The sun is shining and the birds are singing. I notice a few wild raspberries blooming among the shrubbery, and it reminds me of walking with my children happily collecting and eating the berries as we ambled through the countryside. Today we don’t find nearly as many bushes growing untamed along the roads as more construction and fewer farms are seen in my area. Still I wondered where did these berries come from and how did they get here.
There is some archaeological evidence that Paleolithic cave dwellers ate raspberries. Red Raspberry, or Rubus idaeus, is native to Turkey and was gathered by the people living in Troy as early as the first century B.C. Rubus idaeus means bramble bush of Ida named for a nursemaid and the mountains on which they grew in Crete. During the Hellenistic Age they were associated with a Greek fertility myth that the berries were white until Ida, the nursemaid of Zeus, pricked her finger on one of their thorns and stained them red. Later on the Romans conquered vast territories and spread the seed of raspberries throughout their empire as evidenced in archaeological ruins of buildings and forts. These berries are mentioned in the fourth-century writings of Palladius, first Christian bishop of Ireland. During the Middle Ages raspberries were used for food and medicine. Artists employed their red juice in paintings.Only the rich could afford them until King Edward I in England encouraged their cultivation and made them popular in the late 13th century.
The red raspberry may have originally come to North America with the prehistoric peoples crossing the Bering Strait. Explorers arriving in North America found Native Americans eating berries of all kinds. They dried them to use while traveling. European settlers brought seeds and new species of hybrid plants. In 1737 William Prince established the first plant nursery on the continent in Flushing, Queens, NY, and raspberry plants were listed for sale. Estate records from George Washington’s home in Mt. Vernon, dating from 1761, reveal raspberries being cultivated there. One hundred years later, more than forty varieties of raspberries were known throughout America.
Luther Burbank introduced many raspberry hybrids to Americans. He produced a multitude of crosses providing an unlimited variety of qualities. These raspberry plants may be a bush or a vine that grows up to three feet high. Their fruits are ready to eat right off the stems and separate easily by using your fingers, as long as you are careful of the prickly thorns. Wild berries supply food for birds and small animals. Many useful products are gleaned from raspberries: jam, jelly, juice, pies and ice cream. Health benefits are limitless. Raspberries contain high amounts of antioxidants that are believed to fight cancer and heart disease. The high content of Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, B2, and Vitamin C, and Niacin keep our bodies strong. In addition the minerals of calcium, phosphorus, iron and potassium benefit all.
Today more than 70 million pounds of raspberries are sold within one year. So take a walk this spring to see if you can find some of these tasty and healthy raspberries.
Barbara Ann Mojica