Let me begin by saying mulberries aren’t for everyone. I say this because all my life I have grown up with mulberries. I love them, my family and friends love them, and my mom even sent us kids out to pick them so she could make the most amazing pies. However, as I got older I had several people tell me that I could have my mulberry trees cut down if I wanted, and I even heard of people cutting them down on their own properties. I was a bit baffled by this.
Well, it turns out that some considered mulberry trees a nuisance because they produce copious amounts of berries that drop all over and stain walkways, plus they can attract unwanted critters. Thinking about it that way, I understand why people may not want them around. I still think, however, that having a mulberry tree around is a positive thing. So, I am going to talk about mulberry trees in this article, but if growing mulberries isn’t your cup of tea, I get that, but I still hope you learn something new and enjoy the read.
Meet the Mulberry
Mulberry trees (Morus spp.) are largely categorized into three species, with several hybrids created from these three main species. The three main species are the White Mulberry (Morus alba L.), the Black Mulberry (Morus nigra L.), and the American or Red Mulberry (Morus rubra L.). There are species closely related to the mulberry which includes the Himalayan Mulberry (Morus laevigata) and the Korean Mulberry (Morus australis). There are also distant relatives of the mulberry such as the Fig (Ficus spp.) and the Artocarpus, which includes Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) and Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus).
The white mulberry is native to eastern and central China and was naturalized in Europe several hundred years ago. It was brought to North America from China in the 1700’s due to the ability of the mulberry tree’s leaves to feed silkworms. The black mulberry is also a native of Asia but originates from the western area. It’s grown in Europe for its delicious fruits and has been a part of the Roman culture since ancient times. The red or American mulberry is a native of the eastern half of the US.
The white mulberry is quite hardy and is considered drought tolerant and cold resistant. The red mulberry is as well, just to a lesser extent. The black mulberry is known to be somewhat finicky, and is not as tolerant of extremes, as is the white and red mulberries. All three bear delicious fruit, with the black mulberry striking the best balance between a pleasant tart and sweet flavor. The red is quite similar to the black mulberry, and the white is reasonably sweet, but often falls short on the desired tartness.
Health Benefits of Mulberries
Mulberries, while valuable in the silk trade, have also been historically used medicinally to treat diseases of the mouth, throat, and lungs. They have also been used to treat anemia, dysentery, and digestive problems, as well as improve bone strength and vision, boost metabolism, and increase blood circulation. Even in today’s world, mulberries are used to boost immune function, reduce inflammation, improve liver and kidney function, regulate blood glucose levels, and even provide cognitive protection.
Some of the medicinal properties of the mulberry are due to its nutritional profile. In a 1 cup serving (140 grams) of mulberries you will receive 60 calories, 0.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein, and 13.5 grams of carbohydrates (2.5 grams of which is dietary fiber). Mulberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C, and a good source of Vitamin K and non-heme iron. Mulberries also offer Vitamins A, E (tocopherol), and all the B’s (except B-12), and the minerals calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Beyond the many vitamins and minerals mulberries provide, they also offer the polyphenol resveratrol, which acts as an antioxidant and as an anticarcinogen. This tasty little fruit also has the flavonoid rutin. Rutin is important because it helps our bodies absorb Vitamin C and helps produce collagen (which needs Vitamin C). Rutin also has a unique ability to activate brown adipose tissue (BAT), which is a helpful fat in our body that boosts metabolism, regulates blood glucose levels, improves insulin sensitivity, and reduces white fat in our bodies.
Even with all these health benefits, it should be noted that in some areas mulberry trees have been banned due to high pollen production. These trees were outlawed because of the possible health risk from increased pollen. They’re also considered an invasive species in some areas. So, before planting, make sure your area allows these trees.
If your area does allow mulberries, and you want to try your hand at growing these fruitful trees, pick a location you can dedicate to growing your tree. Trees can live well beyond 50 years and grow as tall as 30-80 feet depending upon species. You will also need patience with these trees as it can take up to 10 years before fruit production begins.
To begin planting your mulberries, you can start with a small tree that’s 1-2’ or choose a larger one that’s around 10’. The larger the tree you choose to plant, the older the tree is and usually more viable. After choosing your tree, plant it in full sun with adequate space, with 15’ or more between trees. Don’t plant your tree near walkways, due to staining. Also, ensure your tree is planted far enough away from your house. A good rule of thumb is to plant large trees (ones that will grow over 70’) 20’ away from your home, medium trees (30’-70’) 15’ away, and small trees (less than 30’) 10’ away from your house. Note, you can plant seeds, this will just take longer for your tree to mature.
Choose a location that has deep, well-drained loamy soils. When the tree is first planted be sure to water consistently. Mulberry trees, particularly white and red species, as mentioned above, are fairly drought resistant. However, in extremely dry conditions, mulberries need to be watered or the roots can dry out and the fruit will typically drop before it has fully ripened, and in extreme cases, the tree will die.
Mulberry trees need little pruning unless dead or overcrowded branches need to be removed. While mulberry trees can be tidied up for aesthetic reasons, be very careful with this. These trees have a tendency to bleed when cuts are made. Cuts larger than 2” heal slowly, or not at all, and can permanently damage your tree. If you do choose to prune your tree, do so when the tree is dormant.
The nice thing about mulberries, beyond their delicious fruit and shade capabilities, is that they are fairly resistant to pests and diseases. Mulberry trees can suffer from cankers and dieback, but this isn’t typical. White and red mulberries can occasionally be prone to what is called popcorn disease, in which the fruit swells to resemble popcorn. This disease, while rare, can be carried from one season to the next. To avoid this, infected fruit should be picked and burned. The only other main problem that mulberries can suffer is being eaten by wildlife. However, with these trees, there’s usually plenty for us and our feathery and furry friends.
Collecting and Consuming Mulberries
The fruit of the red and white mulberry tree ripens in late spring to early summer, whereas the black mulberry tends to ripen in mid to late summer. However, if you pick fruit before it’s fully ripe, these mulberries are great for making pies! To gather the ripe fruit, you can either handpick the fruit one-by-one or shake the tree with a collecting cloth underneath. After harvesting the berries, store them, unwashed, in the refrigerator in a covered container for 5-7 days.
Once you have some of these fabulous fruits harvested, you can enjoy them all on their own, or utilize them in a variety of recipes, including jams, jellies, salads, and even wine. They blend well with other fruits and go great in baked goods. One of my favorite things to make with fresh, ripe mulberries is pancakes! Try this recipe out for at your next meal:
Mulberry Cream Cheese Pancakes
8 oz. softened cream cheese
¼ cup softened butter (plus more for skillet)
1-2 cups of flour (I use coconut, plantain, or almond flour, or a combination of them)
2 tablespoons cassava flour
Cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice – as much as your little heart desires. Start with a teaspoon of each and season to your liking
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
Milk – if needed to thin batter
1 cup of ripe mulberries
Heat a skillet on medium
Melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter to keep pancakes from sticking
In a medium sized bowl, place butter and cream cheese
Blend together using a hand mixer
Add eggs, vanilla, maple flavoring, salt, spices, and cassava
Slowly add in flour and keep adding until the batter reaches desired consistency (slightly thick, yet pourable)
If batter becomes too thick add milk a little at a time, very slowly
Stir in mulberries
Pour ½ cup batter into skillet to form pancakes
Cook pancake until it begins to bubble on top
Flip and cook on the other side until golden brown on underside
Test doneness by cutting into center of pancake with a butter knife to make sure it isn’t gooey
Enjoy your pancakes warm, topped with butter, or your favorite pancake topping! These are great for breakfast, or any time of day!
Mulberries, red, white, or black, are delicious, nutritious, and just simply one of my favorite fruits. They remind me of summers as a kid, and work so well in so many recipes. While mulberries may not be your forte, I hope you have learned a little more about them, and while you may not want to grow them, you can still at least appreciate them!
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
University of Minnesota Extension. 1999. Regents of the University of Minnesota. Mulberry. http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/trees-shrubs/mulberry/