Specifics on and care for the red mulberry tree, along with several recipe links and a recipe for pie made with sour cherries and ripe mulberries.
Despite the popularity of the young children’s rhyme, mulberries do not, in fact, grow on bushes.
Mulberry trees come in the species white mulberry, black mulberry, and American or red mulberry, with a hybrid of the red and white existing.
According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, the American or red mulberry is native to the Eastern United States from Massachusetts to Kansas and down to the Gulf. The white mulberry is native to Chinese, was cultured in Europe, and was introduced to America because of its ability to draw silkworms.
Once in the U.S., the white mulberry was crosses with the native American red mulberry in order to combine the attributes of the two.
In this article:
- The Mulberry Fruit Tree
- Collecting, Preserving, Using Mulberries
- How to Plant and Grow a Mulberry Tree
- Care of the Red Mulberry
- Mulberries are Healthy and Delicious
The Mulberry Fruit Tree
The Mulberry Tree is a fruit tree, coveted by cooks and wildlife. It is also a nuisance for driveways and sidewalks.
The Red Mulberry Tree (Morus rubra) is a fruit tree. The ripened fruit is edible and widely used in recipes for pies, fruit tarts, jams and jellies.
The fresh fruit keeps with refrigeration for several days and can be frozen. Wines and cordials are made from the fruit. The mulberry fruit matures from June through August and is abundant for both humans and wildlife.
Importance to Wildlife
Birds and small mammals eat the fruits of mulberry. Bird consumers include blue jays, cardinals, finches, mockingbirds, wood ducks, bluebirds, indigo buntings, kingbirds, towhees, orioles, brown thrashers, and woodpeckers.
Opossums, raccoons, and squirrels feast on the mulberry fruit. Beavers consume red mulberry bark, and the limbs and foliage are eaten by white-tailed deer.
A native of Eastern United States and Southern Canada, the mulberry tree is a deciduous tree with a rounded crown and generally free of pests and diseases. Mature height is from 15 to 70 feet tall. The bark is dark and scaly and thick. The inner bark is tough and fibrous and native Indians used this to make cloth. The roots are shallow.
Often the tree grows several trunks, appearing to be a large bush. A childhood nursery rhyme refers to “around the mulberry bush”. The mulberry tree can be found as an understory tree but grows and produces fruit best in full sun and as a stand-alone tree.
Mulberry trees have been known to bear fruit in as little as four years, but the average seed-bearing age is ten years. Good seed crops are produced every two to three years. Mature fruits fall near the tree and are usually consumed before becoming fully mature. Seeds are spread by the waste from the birds and animals consuming the fruits.
Other Uses of Mulberry
The mulberry plant contains resveratrol, used to prevent bacteria or fungi, and the fruit and leaves are used in nutritional supplements. Mulberry leaves, particularly those of the White Mulberry (native to Asia) are the sole source of food for the silkworm.
Vincent van Gogh immortalized the Mulberry Tree in a painting in 1889.
Negative Aspects of the Mulberry Tree
The ripened fruit of the mulberry tree has a downside. The deep purple color stains everything it touches. When picking the fruit from the tree, hands will become stained and almost impossible to remove the coloring from the skin. Birds that have snacked on the fruit will leave droppings which stains everything it touches. If the tree is planted near a driveway or sidewalk, the stain permeates concrete and walking on the fallen fruit will track the stain inside the home.
Careful consideration must be made when planning for a mulberry tree. It is an advantage to have the fruit for cooking and food for wildlife, but it is best planted away from traffic areas and with ample space around it.
Collecting, Preserving, Using Mulberries
Mulberry trees are common and produce abundant, sweet berries. Find out how to find, collect, preserve and use mulberries and how to plant a mulberry tree.
Mulberry trees often get a “bad rap” because the dark juice of the berries stains surfaces. But the sweet, mild taste of mulberries often brings back memories of barefoot summer days. What are the best ways to collect and use this versatile berry?
How to Find and Identify Mulberries
The red mulberry tree (morus rubra) is a medium sized tree with alternate, simple leaves about three to five inches long. Many mulberry trees (especially young trees) can easily be distinguished because the same tree contains both lobed and unlobed leaves. (See photo #2.)
Mulberry trees are commonly found throughout central and eastern United States and are often considered “weed trees” or pests. Look for mulberry trees along fence lines, in thickets or in wooded areas.
How to Collect Mulberries
Mulberries ripen in late spring or early summer. Collect only the ripe purple or nearly black berries, as the reddish ones will be too tart. Ripe berries can easily be picked from lower branches. You can usually hold a large bowl under a branch and tap the ripe berries to make them fall. Children especially enjoy picking mulberries, but often the little ones eat more than they put into the bowl.
To collect the greatest number of berries or to collect berries from higher branches, lay a tarp or blanket underneath a tree and shake the branches, which causes the ripe berries to fall to the ground. Pour the berries into a large bowl. Mulberries collected in this manner need to be sorted and washed thoroughly.
How to Preserve and Use Mulberries
Mulberries are best eaten freshly picked off the tree, but they are also easy to freeze. Simply wash the mulberries and place in small freezer bags or sandwich bags. The stems do not need to be removed. Frozen mulberries can be used in fruit smoothies or fruit salad.
Mulberries make sweet jam, if you don’t mind the seeds. Purchase powdered or liquid pectin and follow the package directions for raspberry jam, substituting mulberries for the raspberries. Mulberries work well for freezer jam, which is easy to make and preserves the fresh taste of wild mulberries.
You may use mulberries in place of raspberries or blackberries in your favorite recipes. Mulberries work great in pies, syrups or whips.
How to Plant and Grow a Mulberry Tree
Gardeners seldom choose to plant mulberry trees, mostly because the berries stain driveways, cars, and anything else they come into contact with. For this reason, it is difficult to find mulberry trees at a garden store. However, mulberry trees may be purchased through catalogs or on-line.
You may also transplant a wild mulberry sapling. Look for small saplings growing near a larger mulberry tree. (Be sure to ask first before digging.) When transplanting wild saplings, it’s important to get all the roots when you remove the tree. Then dig a larger hole before replanting the tree, making sure there is plenty of loose soil for root growth. Water frequently for the first few weeks after planting.
Mulberry trees grow quickly and take little care. For the first several years, prune the mulberry tree in late fall or early spring annually to encourage full growth and low branches for easy collecting.
Even though mulberry trees are often spoken of with disdain, the fruits are plenteous and delicious and make summertime complete.
Care of the Red Mulberry
Trees need full sun and adequate space to grow. Space between trees should be no less than 15 feet. Do not plant near walkways, as fruit will stain the sidewalks and be drug inside.
Warm and well-drained.
Though hearty, the tree needs to be watered during dry spells so the fruit does not drop prematurely. No special pruning is needed except to rid tree of dead wood.
While the mulberry is usually disease-free, it can sometimes contract popcorn disease, which is a problem if mulberries are being raised for food. If this occurs, infected fruit should be separated and burned to avoid passing on the disease to well fruit.
Harvest is between late May and July. Harvest by placing a tarp under the tree and shaking branches to release ripened fruit.
Fruit can be used much like any other berry and be made into cobblers, tarts, or pies; be blended into smoothies; or made into jam.
Mulberries are Healthy and Delicious
Chinese medicine has used mulberries for a number of ailments for centuries. They are helpful for insomnia and prematurely gray hair. They are healthy and delicious..
Mulberries are those flavorful little fruits that people think are so yummy. In South Dakota, the Mulberries are ripening on the trees. They are changing from green to pink, then to a dark purple.
The trees can be found in many places. A person can find them growing along the ditches on country roads, on abandoned farmyards or growing out of sidewalks in the cities and towns. Birds and other animals that love them as much as people do have graciously planted and fertilized them in their droppings.
There are many different varieties of mulberries. The most popular are a dark purple. The other kinds range to a light purple, pink or white. The most prized in the use of an herb are the white ones and they are also the sweetest tasting.
These berries are very nutritious to eat raw, and because of their medicinal value known through the centuries, they are used in Chinese medicine. Mulberries contain carotene, thiamene, riboflavin, vitamin C, tannin, linoleic acid and steric acid.
A person can use mulberries in a number of ways: eat them right off the tree, add them on top of ice cream, mix them with a little cream or use them in a pie. The ideas are endless and delicious.
Four Parts of the Mulberry Tree Used in Chinese Medicine
Each part of the mulberry tree is used for different ailments in Chinese medicine. The mulberry, or sang shen, has a number of uses. It treats dizziness, tinnitus, and insomnia. It can help in the premature graying of hair. This berry also enriches the blood and yin and treats constipation when due to blood deficiency. The dose when used in Chinese medicines is 6 to 15 grams per day. This is often made into a syrup form, and is just naturally sweet.
The mulberry leaves, sang ye, are used to treat sore throats, coughs, fever and headache. It can be used internally and externally. When used as eyewash, it clears red, sore painful eyes.
The mulberry root bark, sang bai pi, stops coughing and sneezing. It promotes urination to reduce edema. Mulberry root bark is used as a decoction to get rid of tapeworms.
The mulberry twig, sang zhi, also has health value. If drunk as an infusion, it can increase the rate of white blood cells, or lymphocytes, to protect the body against disease. It also helps relieve arthritis in the joints of the arms.
One other ingredient that comes indirectly from the mulberry tree is from the silkworms that eat only mulberry leaves. The body of the silkworm, jang can, is used in treating childhood seizures and facial paralysis. It can also be used to extinguish wind and stop tremors. The silkworm feces, can sha, is used as a poultice or tea for itchy rashes.
Rarely Sold in Stores
Fresh mulberries are rarely sold in stores or farmer’s markets. In in some areas, you can find them as dried fruit. Mulberries do not last very long once they are off the tree. Even when placed in the refrigerator, they go mushy within a day or two.
Now that the season has come, last week in June, drive down some of the rural roads and look for those small dark purple fruits. On the other hand, ask someone who lives in the area if they can show where the trees are. It will be worth the time it takes to find a mulberry tree no matter what color fruit it has.