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. (firstname.lastname@example.org)