After all the “Berry” puns my husband cracked this weekend, one would think I would not give in to the obvious in this title…but an article on Berries simply begs for it. And that is what this is–an article on berries. Mulberries, to be precise. While it was a berry-filled weekend picking all kinds of berries (hence all the berry puns my husband spouted) I wanted to zero in on the misunderstood, overlooked, ignored Mulberry.
Mulberry trees are an oft-hated tree that drop dark, staining fruit on people’s cars, houses, and driveways. That seems to be all most people know about them. As I was picking berries from trees in my favorite spot, I was amazed that several people expressed that they had had a mulberry tree for years and never even knew they could eat the berries–they just knew they hated the mess they made. While I am surprised about people’s lack of curiosity about something growing on their property, I get it about the mess. I would never plant a mulberry tree in my small suburban plot. Their fruit truly makes a mess. The fruit stains everything this deep (really rather beautiful) indigo color. Even if it’s not over the house, cars or driveways, the dropped fruit gets on the bottom of shoes, tracks inside. It invites birds, so you get extra droppings on every thing else. Plus, it propagates like mad because of all that fruit, with help from the birds, and can be considered an invasive. Well, here is the trick to loving mulberry trees: finding them on someone else’s property!
I really didn’t talk up the Mulberry, did I? But they really are a glorious fruit–especially on someone else’s property! They are bountiful fruiting trees and have a long season and are packed with nutrition. They are high in vitamin C which is not surprising for a fruit, but are also high in vitamin K and iron which is quite unique for a fruit. They are also a decent source of calcium and potassium, riboflavins and magnesium. All that and they are considered low in calories due to their high water content. Other benefits to the mulberry: you don’t have to go to war with thorny branches, the trees are compact and usually easy to pick from. And the best part–they are free!! We went to a berry farm to pick beautiful black and red raspberries that cost $3.50 a pint. We then picked two quarts of mulberries for free! How can you pass up free, delicious things just growing in nature and ignored?
Okay, so you may be saying that you don’t know of any person or place with a mulberry tree just begging to be picked. Well, first I say, you should learn to recognize the tree, because you may not know what you are seeing. When you start researching the mulberry, you see a lot about the white versus red mulbery (morus albus and morus rubra). For the most part though, both of the fruit ends up dark purple, they breed with each other quite readily and they look pretty similar overall and if you learn to recognize one, you’ll recognize the other. However, one point to make here: if you are going to plant a tree, find a red mulberry since it is at least native to the United States.
There are many other varieties of mulberries, found all over the world and also the United States and Canada, but if you are foraging in the United States, you are most likely to come across the red or white mulberry. If you are west of the plains and north of Illinois, then you are probably only going to come across the white mulberry. The Purdue University extension wrote a wonderful article to help you differentiate the two, if you are interested. However, like I mentioned above, if you learn to recognize one, you’ll learn to recognize the other–though you won’t always know which one you’re looking at because they cross breed.
Undeniably, one of the best indicators that a mulberry tree is in the area at this time of year is the tell-tale purple fruit or stains under it. Even if you don’t recognize the tree with its unique lobed and unlobed leaves, if you see dark stains on the ground, stop and explore. You are then looking for a tree with a fruit that looks like a blackberry.
The ripe fruit doesn’t need much coaxing to slip from the tree–really just a light touch–and comes off with a tiny green stem. Just leave that stem on the fruit. It is harmless and trying to remove if will probably smoosh your fruit.
In Illinois, you can now pick berries and apples and such in state parks. Check your state and local parks to see if you can forage there as well. You may just have found that perfect spot to pick mulberries on someone else’s property. If you know of someone with several acres, or a farm, ask them if you can explore. Mulberries often grown up along fence lines. You may even already know someone with a mulberry tree who may be glad to let you pick as many berries as you can to keep them from ending up on the driveway. The important thing is to keep your eyes peeled. Once you start looking for something, you often find it!
Just remember that the whole staining mess thing is real. Do not wear your cutest white shirts or shorts! You hands will get stained if you pick them individually. This is my preferred method. But I have been told that this is the novice way to do it and that real mulberry pickers come equipped with a tarp or sheet. They then place the tarp or sheet on the ground and shake the branches. Ripe Mulberries fall very easily from the tree. If you try this method, let me know how it works. I would be concerned about smashing the fruit.
The fruit is really delicate, with a very mild, sweet flavor. We have been picking them and placing them in gallon freezer bags to add to smoothies. I have also added them to muffins and they were delicious. The options are limitless: add to pancakes, pies, and crumbles. You can dry them and add them to granola and oatmeal. If you have grown up with mulberries and have a great idea for them, let me know! I will continue to update this page with ideas, as well.