Raspberries, genus Rubus, are in the rose family and are believed to have originated mainly in Eastern Asia. The red raspberry may have been brought to North America by prehistoric people who crossed the Bering Straight and then introduced them to North America, although the wild black raspberry is believed to be native to the west.
Within the raspberry family there are two major types, the red raspberry and the black raspberry. There is also a purple raspberry which is a cross between the red and black raspberries and a yellow raspberry which is a genetic mutation that occurs in red raspberries. Among these types there are 200 different varieties of raspberries.
Archaeological evidence shows that Paleolithic cave dwellers ate raspberries. The delectable fruit has been a part of the human diet ever since, though the canes were not cultivated until about the 4th century A.D., as documented by Palladius. In the Hellenistic period raspberries were associated with fertility are found in Greek mythology. In the Greek stories, the berries were once white but when Zeus' nursemaid, Ida, pricked her finger on a thorn it stained the berries red and they have remained so ever since. The scientific name for red raspberries, Rubus idaeus, means literally “bramble bush of Ida”, named both for the nursemaid and the mountain where they grew on the island of Crete.
While there is historical evidence that the raspberry was valued for its sweet berries, more value was likely placed on the leaves which have long been used in medicinal preparations. The leaves are still used in herbal teas or tisane to sooth the digestive system and to help soothe menstrual cramps.
The popularity of the raspberry in food and medical uses continued well into the middle ages when its juice was also used as a red stain in art work. The 13th century English king, Edward I, is credited with encouraging the cultivation of raspberries throughout England.
European settlers brought raspberry canes with them to America and continued their cultivation as well as crossing them with the native black raspberries. By 1771, the first cultivated stock was being sold in Virginia by William Price.
George Washington is known to have cultivated raspberries at Mount Vernon and by the time of the Civil War there were at least 40 known varieties.
Raspberries are grown commercially in most U.S. States, but the state of Washington leads the way with 70 million tons per year in production. The raspberry is also an important crop in Oregon, California and much of the Midwest.
Raspberries will actually grow as far north as the Arctic circle and can be grown even in tropical regions, though they prefer a cooler climate. Raspberries are grown commercially in most U.S. States, but the state of Washington has a perfect growing climate for the berries and leads the way with 70 million tons per year in production. The raspberry is also an important crop in Oregon, California and much of the Midwest.
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