Mulberry – A Healthy Secret


They are a fruit few have eaten. The trees are common in our area, but most people don’t know what they are or even what the fruits look like.

Mulberries are small trees up to 30 feet tall.  Their leaves have varying numbers of lobes.  Many have none.  They have separate male and female flowers, sometimes but not always on the same tree.

The fruits, while called berries, are a multiple of drupes, much like blackberries.  Fruits ripen in late spring, but usually over a longer period of time than most tree fruits.

There are two common species in our area.  The red mulberry, (Morus rubra), is the only native species.  The white mulberry, (Morus alba), was introduced from Asia, has escaped cultivation and now is probably more common.

Why was the white mulberry originally brought here?  White mulberry is a favorite food of the silkworm.  Silk farming was attempted in America, but the worms never flourished.  The mulberries did.

The trees are considered invasive by many states and are not promoted for landscape or agricultural use.  It’s a shame.  The wood is flexible and resistant to decay.  Fruit is palatable and leaves are used medicinally.

Both red and white mulberry are food for many species of wildlife.  Most people don’t know what they are or if we can eat them.  The birds, squirrels, deer, and bear do.  So do foxes, turkeys and copious species of songbirds.

The fruits look a lot like blackberries.  White mulberries vary from off-white to lavender to nearly black.  Red mulberries vary in color from deep red to nearly black.

I harvest mulberries by placing tarps under the canopy and climbing the tree.  I then shake the branches to free the fruits.  Along with the mulberries come twigs and leaves.  Most of this trash must be picked out manually.  After that I winnow them using two 5-gallon buckets and a box fan.  This removes the tiny fruit stems.

Flavor of both species is bland compared to blackberries but seeds are smaller.  Mulberries also are low in pectin, so to make jellies or jams one must add more fruit pectin to produce a thickened product.  I usually add some crabapple juice to achieve the same effect.

Health benefit claims of mulberry are too numerous to mention.  Unfortunately, many have not been thoroughly proven.

Leaf extracts are marketed worldwide for weight loss.  Mulberry leaves contain a substance called moranoline that inhibits an intestinal enzyme from breaking down complex carbohydrates and sucrose into glucose (blood sugar).

This would certainly help with weight loss if it works as well in the body as it does in a test tube.  Numerous studies link mulberry extracts to improved blood glucose management for diabetics.

Mulberries are an excellent source of vitamins B, C and K. They are also full of fiber, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium.

Morus species also contain resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red grapes and red wine.  It is linked to lowering cholesterol, preventing cancer, blood clots, diabetes and aiding in weight loss.

In short, mulberries are  more than nursery rhyme trivia.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School. (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us)

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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2 Responses to Mulberry – A Healthy Secret

  1. awhitenhs12 says:

    These trees are also common in eastern, nc. I didnt know mulberries were so high with rich vitamins and nutrients, they seem like there very good for the body.

  2. Well particularly i dont eat many of the berrys but this one i could make an exception for since it has so many health benefits

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