Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


Rubus idaeus
genus:  Rubus

- genus includes:  blackberry, cloudberry, dewberry and salmonberry.

By Hugh Murphy

The raspberry plant is a thorny, brambly relative of the rose plant.  It’s medicinal properties and flavorful berries have made raspberry bushes a valued resource for many indigenous peoples of North America.


With its small green leaves, viny stems and small, sharp thorns, raspberry bushes are similar to the other members of its genus.  They grow well in lightly acidic soils, they prefer temperate and cool climates, and they suffer in the intense heat of the southern United States (EOG, 939). 

Raspberry fruits ripen throughout the summer and come in a variety of colors (white, yellow, red, black and purple).  These berries, depending on the variety, are either sweet or tart in taste. 

Red raspberries are perhaps the most well-known and highly valued variety in North America.  Red berries (along with yellow) have the greatest geographical range thanks to their tolerance of cold weather.  They are prevalent throughout the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska where they are often referred to as salmonberries since many tribes in the region ate them alongside salmon roe (Davidson, 654)). 

A raspberry is actually a cluster of tiny berries, which cling together around a central etaerio.  Unlike blackberries for instance, raspberry etaerios remain on the plant when the berries are picked (Davidson, 654).  This makes raspberries much softer and easier to eat. 



Fresh, ripe raspberries have long been prized the world over for their distinctive flavor.  The value of fresh berries was not lost on the indigenous peoples of North America who were likely the first cultivators of the summer fruit.  American Indians ate large quantities of fresh berries, picked straight from the vine or mashed and mixed into beverages.  Ripe berries were also added to soups and meat dishes, and baked into a variety of cakes (Scully, 77). 

Excess berries were too valuable to let decay on the vine.  Berries that could not be eaten fresh were dried and pressed into cakes for winter (Scully, 77).  These dried berries provided an important source of vitamins during the winter months when fruit was at a premium in the cold, northern regions. 


While raspberry fruit was primarily used for culinary purposes, the entire raspberry plant was used by American Indians to treat a number of illnesses.  Raspberry roots, leaves and bark were all used to treat different ailments of the digestive and intestinal tracts.  Roots were used to treat diarrhea while raspberry leaf tea was used as a diuretic and to calm nausea and vomiting (Scully, 155, 236).  Bark tea was also commonly prescribed to treat dysentery and stomach aches (Scully, 236, 265).  



Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

“Raspberry.” The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Rodale, 1968  

Scully, Virginia. A Treasury of American Indian Herbs – Their Lore and Their Use for Food, Drugs, and Medicine.  New York:  Crown Publishers, Inc. 1970.