Growing up, I associated my period with pain — and not just aches, but the kind of sharp, excruciating pain that makes you want to spend all day in the fetal position. I'd have to miss days of school, and eventually of work; sometimes I threw up.
In my attempts to relieve the pain, I tried it all: Tylenol, Ibuprofen, hot packs, exercising, wishing for a quick and painless death. After years of struggling to find a solution, I had basically given up — until I discovered relief in a common grocery-store tea.
First, a disclaimer: I'm not very familiar with homeopathic remedies. I have no problem with prescription medicine and I'm not a frequent health store visitor. But I was willing to try anything, so when a friend told me how great raspberry leaf tea had been for her cramps, I shrugged my shoulders and gave it a whirl.
Raspberry leaf tea was like nothing I had ever tried. After just a mug, my cramps died down to a dull roar, and after two, they disappeared completely. I drank the tea every few hours throughout the length of my period, whenever I'd start to feel twinges of pain returning, and it continued to keep cramps at bay. I cut out all other attempts at pain management and simply drank the Kool-Aid — I mean, tea.
What Is Raspberry Leaf Tea?
Raspberry leaf tea is exactly what it sounds like: tea made from the leaf of red raspberries. It can be found at anywhere from health stores to your local Target. Raspberry leaf can also come in a pill or supplement format, but the tea is easily the most affordable way to ingest it.
When I read more about the tea, I discovered that raspberry leaf tea has been used for centuries by midwives to help women at various points during their fertility cycle. Dr. Diana Ramos, an OB/GYN and co-chair of the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative, says that many herbalists have dubbed raspberry leaf tea "the women's herb."
So, what are the alleged benefits? The combination of fragarine, an alkaloid in raspberries, and tannins, a naturally occurring polyphenol often found in wine, are known for treating PMS symptoms, particularly cramping, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. "Fragarine is known to help tone and tighten muscles in the pelvic region, thereby assisting with the cramps caused by spasms of these muscles," Dr. Ramos says. Meanwhile, tannins are believed to strengthen the uterus, mitigating heavy and irregular bleeding during the menstrual cycle.
Two additional ingredients that come into play are calcium and magnesium. "These two minerals are also a factor in preventing muscle spasms and therefore preventing PMS cramping," Dr. Ramos explains.
Raspberry leaf tea may also benefit women who are expecting. According to Dr. Joe Alton, an OB/GYN and Life Fellow of the American College of OB/GYNs, raspberry leaf tea has various uses during pregnancy: "Best used after the first trimester, it helps decrease morning sickness and acts as a source of antioxidants and minerals. Later on, it decreases swelling and leg cramps." Dr. Alton also adds that raspberry leaf tea may have benefits during labor and after birth, when "it is thought to have a role in balancing hormones that could cause depression in the postpartum period."
After I had my first baby this spring, I drank raspberry leaf tea every day in an attempt to help with postpartum issues like bleeding and depression. Anecdotally, I can tell you that, for me at least, it seemed to work: bleeding ceased after only a week and a half, and so far, I've been postpartum depression-free.
What to Know Before You Try Raspberry Leaf Tea
As of yet, there haven't been enough studies on raspberry leaf tea to determine if its benefits are scientific or old-wives-tale material. And whenever you're using herbal remedies, it's important to consult your healthcare provider.
"The first and most important piece of information to keep in mind when giving recommendations for herbal medication is the fact that herbs and supplements are not overseen by the FDA. Many consumers incorrectly believe that herbal remedies are safe because they are 'natural' — that they pose no risk and do not cause effects," Dr. Ramos says.
There are also some conditions that can be made worse by consuming the tea. "Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancers, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, and [there's evidence that] raspberry leaf tea might act like estrogen. So if you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don't use raspberry leaf tea," Dr. Ramos warns.
All of that said, raspberry leaf tea has been a life-changer for me — not to mention its sweet flavor is also just plain delicious.