PHOTO: Peter Miller/Flickr
In the past I’ve covered the difference between the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) and the cultivated strawberry you see in the supermarket (Fragaria ananassa). I wrote that piece on a suggestion from my daughter. A former student of mine recently stopped by our store and brought up the uses of this plant again.
I’ve used strawberry leaf in a number of tea formulas for years. You can harvest it just about any time of year, but at flowering, the leaf’s mildly fruity taste reaches its peak. You can use any of the Fragaria spp. interchangeably. I like it best for its supportive nature in the female reproductive system. It isn’t as common as raspberry leaf in this manner, but you’ll find it in a lot of formulas for flavor and harmony. In truth, strawberry leaf is known to be helpful in digestive complaints, liver disease, gout and arthritis. The German Commission E indicates that it’s a supportive therapy for the respiratory, nervous and circulatory systems. The leaves have been used as a diuretic to remove gravel and stones and promote overall kidney health while improving the condition of the blood, stimulating the metabolism and as an overall tonic.
In the female reproductive system, strawberry leaf has been shown to inhibit menstruation. The leaves are also used topically on rashes. The German Commission E states that they are considered a food additive.
Strawberry leaf contains tannins, which are responsible for the leaves’ astringent activity in the body. They contain a small amount of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), flavonoids, proanthocyanidins and the antibiotic fragarin.
Strawberry Leaf Controversy
Sadly, like other members of the rose family, a bit of controversy surrounds using parts of the strawberry plant. Hidden in various parts of this family is a chemical called HCN, hydrogen cyanide. In the berry itself HCN is present in the seeds, but at minuscule levels.
Some say it’s safe to consume strawberry leaf right after it is picked and again when it has been dried because all of the HCN has evaporated at that point. They suggest that while the leaf is breaking down or decomposing that it sheds the HCN, making the leaf toxic. For me, it seems suspect that there is a problematic level of cyanide present in a plant that has strong evidence to support its traditional use in treating digestive upset. Any toxicity would be felt as an upset stomach, something that I believe would have been noted.
Growing Strawberry Leaf at Home
To grow your own strawberry leaf for tea, it is simple to get your hands on plants. It’s easiest to start the wild variety by seed, but you can buy the cultivated strawberry plant in most nurseries. Keep in mind that F. ananassa is very prone to disease and pest and is most productive in its first year. Plant them in full sun and ensure that they get even waterings but don’t sit in wet soil. Raised beds are the best. Pick your leaves and dry them immediately in a darkened space to retain the best of their nutrition and benefit.
Evidence is not conclusive regarding how much HCN is present in the leaf and stem of strawberries. We simply don’t have the capacity to do all the plant studies that need to be done. If you are allergic to strawberries, it is important to understand that you will also be allergic to strawberry leaf. It’s a common food additive, so check your tea blends at the very least to ensure you don’t have a reaction. Strawberries themselves contain so little of the substance as to not even be worth mentioning, so I suppose you should follow your own best judgment when it comes to the leaves.