by Gail Kavanagh
In many places in the urbanized West, mulberry trees are considered more of a curse than a blessing. Originating in Asia, these trees fruit profusely and drop their cargo with abandon, making a sticky purple mess on whatever lies below. Birds that eat the berries add vivid purple droppings on cars, driveways and outdoor furniture as well.
Mulberry trees pop up anywhere they please and are often classified as a weed. Many people would rather be rid of them and can chop them down with no objections from urban forestry projects. But they still flourish in urban areas because of the ease of propagation, mainly by birds. It would seem that mulberry trees have very little going for them, if it weren’t for the berries.
Mulberries are one of the most delicious and nutritious fruits available. Packed with vitamin C, flavonoids and antioxidants, they are high on the scale of healthy berries. Mulberries are also a good source of iron and vitamin B complex, and provide many other trace vitamins and minerals. In short, these plump berries are powerhouses of concentrated goodness. That’s the blessing side of a mulberry tree in your garden — like having your own multivitamin production line.
The curse of the mulberry tree is often just the result of bad placement. These trees will grow anywhere they can. They grow under decks and carports, alongside brick walls and in the most unlikely places. The root system can be invasive and dangerous to foundations, and the branches spread into a wide canopy that threaten everything beneath it. It must be removed if the tree roots and branches affect foundations and roof structures. But if you want to make the most of this free source of delicious nutrition, it is worth transplanting to another location, or putting a new plant somewhere less threatening.
Try to keep the branches away from neighboring properties, driveways, swimming pools and outdoor clotheslines. Mulberry trees sit well on a lawn or in a field where they can spread unhindered, and drop fruit without the fear of staining something else. The shade of a mulberry tree makes a pleasant spot for picnics.
While the nutritional benefits are best obtained by eating fresh raw fruit, mulberries also have many uses in the kitchen. Mulberries can be cooked on their own or with other fruits into conserve, or added to pies and cakes and cobblers. For cooking purposes, mulberries are similar to other collective fruits (fruits with multi globules on the surface). These include raspberries and blackberries, where mulberries can be a substitution for either or mixed with these fruits. Mulberries can be used in any recipe that calls for collective fruits and can be added to smoothies and ice cream.
When harvesting, ripe mulberries easily pull away from the tree, while less ripe fruit will be harder to pick. Place the fruit in a colander and rinse off under cold flowing water. If you want to freeze the berries, drain off the water and dry them on thick paper towels. You can flash freeze the berries on foil trays in the freezer for two hours, then pack them into bags or containers and store in the freezer for up to 12 months.
If you just cannot ignore the elephant in the room – the lingering purple stain – make friends with it. Mulberry dye is one the oldest known. From the lovely shades of lilac to deep purple that it produces are well worth the effort. The basic recipe is twice the weight of water to mulberries, so one container of mulberries will require four equal containers of water. Bring the fruit and water to the boil, strain into a bowl and add the fabric. Leave overnight to soak. To make a mordant to fix the dye, dissolve one cup of salt in a bucket of warm water, and soak the fabric again overnight before drying naturally in the sun.
The many uses of the mulberry, and its amazing value as a superfood, may help homeowners decide to relocate this useful tree rather than destroy it. Picking the ripe fruit at harvest time is a purple-stained memory shared by many older people across the world. It can be something your children will remember as well.