Mulberries are the edible fruit produced by deciduous trees in the genus Morus. These fruit trees share the mulberry name with their fruits and grow white, red, or black berries. Although mulberries are delicious and come with different tastes based on their color, many still ask, “What is a mulberry?” when someone mentions the fruit.
You’ve likely seen a mulberry without realizing it because the black mulberry closely resembles blackberry fruit. With their comparable taste, mulberry fruit is often used similarly to our favorite berries in pies, tarts, jams, and even mulberry juice.
Nutritionally, ripe fruit from the mulberry tree is rich in vitamin C and iron while offering just below the daily value of nutrients like vitamin E and K. With this in mind, it’s a wonder why mulberries are not more popular and as widely used as similar fruits.
- What are Mulberries?
- Where did Mulberries Originate?
What are Mulberries?
The white mulberry (Morus alba) is native to South Asia. Although it is cultivated worldwide, in North America and Brazil, M alba is considered an invasive species. Continue reading for more information on mulberries, including how to grow and use them.
Regardless of their color, mulberries resemble blackberries in shape and texture, although they look longer. The three colors of mulberries do not define their species, as it is possible to grow all three colors on the same tree. Instead, their species names identify the type of tree.
Where did Mulberries Originate?
To answer “Where do mulberries come from?” it’s essential to know that although some mulberries are native to Asia, you can find the mulberry species across Europe, the Americas, and southern Africa.
What are mulberries grown on? The familiar childhood song that comes to mind mentions a mulberry bush; however, mulberries are exclusively grown on trees, unlike other berries.
Wild black mulberries (Morus nigra) are the naturally occurring variety, while white mulberries exist due to a mutation in Europe during the 12th century.
The red mulberry tree (Morus rubra) grew natively in North America and was a favorite of Native Americans. The red mulberry was one of their essential natural resources for creating cakes and bread and being dried for use in what we would view as granola or fruit bars.
Black, red, and white mulberry trees grow throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and through imports were introduced to other parts of the world.
Silkworms enjoy mulberries, specifically the white mulberry leaf, as their primary food source. Records of the importance of mulberries date back to 220 AD, when Roman Emperor Elagabalus wore silk robes. Mulberries were cultivated precisely for silkworms so that Romans could gather their silk for garments.
Your USDA growing zone determines the best type of mulberry tree. Where do mulberry trees grow best? Generally, mulberries thrive in zones four through eight.
For home growers in zones six and above, the climate is ideal for black mulberries, while the red mulberry is hardier and capable of handling slightly cooler temperatures. Some black mulberry trees grow both female and male flowers and pollinate with aid from the wind.
The size of your tree also depends on the species you plan. Mulberry trees grow rather tall, with white mulberry trees growing up to 80 feet. Red mulberries reach up to 70 feet, while black mulberry trees are considerably shorter, reaching around 30 feet. They make ideal privacy shrubs and trees during the warmer months.
How to Start Planting Mulberry Trees
The process of germinating mulberry seeds is time-consuming, so it may be a better idea to start growing mulberries from cuttings taken from other trees. The best time to plant a mulberry tree is in the fall, but spring-planted mulberries do well as long as you give them enough water.
To plant from seeds, gather mulberries at the end of the growing season. Save as many as possible for germination as not all seeds are guaranteed to sprout.
Because mulberry seeds require a germinating stratification process, we suggest starting in mid-winter. Starting before spring gives you time to treat your seeds so they are ready to be planted in the spring.
Germinating Mulberry Seeds
To start stratifying, soak your berries in water for a full day. Drain the water and mash up the berries to reveal their seeds. Pick out the seeds, rinse them clean, and set them out to dry in the shade.
Once dry, rinse your seeds again, this time in distilled water, then place them onto a damp paper towel. Fold the towel to cover your seeds and place them in a sealable plastic bag in the fridge. Leave your seeds in the refrigerator for 60 to 90 days, checking every week to ensure the paper towel remains moist.
Remove seeds once roots sprout and plant them into the garden in a location that receives full sun in slightly acidic soil. Plant these sprouts with at least 15 feet between each tree.
Beyond regular watering and fertilizing, your mulberry trees do not require much care once planted. Prune old and dead branches on the cuttings to promote new growth and watch for signs of disease like cankers.
Harvesting and Storing Mulberries
When comparing mulberry fruit vs blackberry fruit, a mulberry tree produces fruit in two to three years. To harvest sooner, purchase an everbearing start from a nursery as these can produce fruit the first year.
Red mulberries may be red or a deep lavender, while black mulberries are closer to a dark purple. Like blackberries, ripe mulberries are safe to eat raw, though eating mulberries requires work.
Mulberries come with a small stem attached when picked, and because of their size, the stem is difficult to remove if you’re looking for a quick snack.
Once you harvest your berries, they can stay in the fridge, unwashed, in a sealed container for two to three days. If you find yourself with more berries than you can handle, use what you can and store the rest.
To freeze mulberries, thoroughly clean them and set them out to dry on a flat surface like a baking sheet. Gather the berries into freezer-safe bags, remove as much air as possible, and leave them in the freezer for up to six months.
The Taste of Mulberries
As mulberries grow, their color, texture and taste change as the berry becomes plumper. The taste of your mulberry depends on the color of the fruit you pick, so if you’re looking to include mulberries in your diet, we suggest taste testing first to find which berry you prefer.
Once harvested, red and white mulberry fruit is typically sweet and tastes delicious in pies, baked goods, and ice cream. The black berries mix sweet and tart and do well when made into jams, tarts, drinks, and eaten as dried mulberries. If you’re wondering “What is mulberry fruit made into?” we suggest a simple and refreshing lemonade.
Place your mulberries in a blender to create a puree, then add the puree to a bowl with sugar and lemon juice. Split the mixture among four cups with ice before topping the glasses off with club soda. Add mint to garnish and serve.
Other Uses for Mulberries
Although delicious fresh mulberries might be the main attraction of a mulberry tree, there is more to them than just the berry they produce. While some consider the mulberry fruit to be a superfood, the mulberry leaf possesses health benefits of its own.
In Asian countries, Koreans use mulberry leaves to brew herbal teas. Leaves are also eaten directly after cooking them.
Even the mulberry tree found practical use after creating a fruitless variety. Without fruit to harvest, the tree is often used in landscaping as an ornamental tree to provide shade.
Medicinal Uses for Mulberries
Like the fruit, mulberry leaves are rich in vitamin C and other nutrients like zinc, calcium, and magnesium. Mulberry leaves are useful across culinary, medicinal, and industrial fields.
Although there is ongoing research into the usefulness of mulberries in medicine, theories suggest that extracts from mulberry fruit affect the central nervous system of animals. Additionally, white mulberries are used in traditional Chinese medicine to reduce cholesterol, obesity, and stress.
What is a Mulberry Supplement?
Supplements made from mulberry leaf extract are available at pharmacies and grocery stores. Compounds found within mulberry leaves may help manage diabetes and reduce high blood sugar and insulin.
There is test-tube research to show that mulberry extracts promote liver health, improve skin tone, and even have anti-tumor effects on the body, according to The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (J Agric Food Chem).
Note: Before adding mulberry extracts or supplements to your routine, contact your primary care physician.
What is Mulberry Toxicity?
While the ripe fruit from mulberry trees is safe for humans to consume, the other parts of the mulberry produce a milky sap that is toxic to humans. Eating unripe fruit may also lead to an upset stomach and, in severe cases, hallucinations. Skin contact with this sap may also cause skin irritation.
Despite this, humans eat mulberry leaves with few complaining of adverse effects. This outcome suggests that mulberry leaves and extracts affect people differently.
Some people who take supplements report nausea, dizziness, and bloating, but additional studies are required to examine the long-term effect of consuming mulberry supplements.
Children and pregnant people should avoid consuming extracts from the mulberry leaf as there is insufficient research to determine its long-term impact.
What is Mulberry Fruit Leather?
While harvesting fruit from trees can be a fun activity for the whole family, nothing compares to finding fun ways to incorporate your haul into snacks and meals. Fruit leather, similar to sugary fruit rolls sold in the store, is a simple snack to make with your kids for a summer treat.
Depending on what berry you’re using, you may or may not need to add sugar to the recipe. Taste your berries first to decide if the sweetness of white and red berries is sufficient or if you want to cut the tart taste of black mulberries with sugar.
Thoroughly clean your berries and remove any remaining stems before adding them to a saucepan with water and allowing them to simmer on low heat for ten minutes. Mash the berries with a potato masher or transfer them to a blender to create a puree.
Taste the puree to determine if sugar is needed and how much lemon juice to include. Return your puree to the pan and continue to simmer to thicken.
Blend the puree again until smooth before lining a baking sheet with heat-proof plastic wrap. Pour the puree evenly onto the sheet ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Fruit leather usually comes rolled when you buy it from the store so pouring your puree too thick makes rolling and packing it away difficult.
Preheat your oven to 140°F and place your puree inside to dry out for a minimum of six hours. Rotate the baking sheet every hour, ensuring the plastic wrap is not covering the puree. Remove the baking sheet after 12 hours and lay the plastic wrap and fruit leather on a flat surface.
If your puree is sticking to itself, lay a sheet of parchment paper on top to prevent it from sticking when you roll it. Otherwise, peel your fruit leather from the plastic and begin rolling it. Cut your leather pieces as desired and store them in an airtight container in the fridge.
Mulberries are delicious and exciting fruits that deserve a place among common fruit trees to provide you with a bountiful supply. Due to how fragile these berries are, you might have difficulty finding them in the local market, so growing your own might be the best investment.
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