Fruit trees are such spectacular beings. We often think of them as part of orchards or as the occasional member of a mostly non-edible landscape in suburbia. But fruit trees can be so much more. For example, one approach to garden design is called the Edible Forest Garden. It mimics a self-sustaining forest ecosystem and features fruit and nut trees as the largest members of a densely layered forest of food. Fruit trees are key to this because they are perennial, provide years of food for harvesting, provide homes for various other creatures, can help to stabilize soil, and retain moisture. And, of course, we all know how helpful trees are as carbon sinks and generators of oxygen. (I could go on all day, so if you have more questions about Edible Forest Gardens and permaculture–from a vegan perspective–get in touch with us.)
Today’s plant profile is of an amazingly *fruitful* tree, the MULBERRY. You may know the tree primarily for the purple stains its berries leave on sidewalks or cars–and all the purple bird poop that speckles, well, everything when they are in season. It has been cultivated over the centuries throughout the world, including China (where, sadly, the native white mulberry’s leaves were used as food for silkworms in the silk industry), Europe, and the Mediterranean before spreading farther. Varieties include White, Black, Red, and American. The trees are relatively hardy and spread easily due to the popularity of the fruit (and thus the widespread pooping of the seeds). They can grow as tall as 75-80 ft., and some varieties have been known to produce fruit for hundreds of years (though it can take as long as 10 years for a tree to start fruiting). They can be grown easily from cuttings or seeds from a fruit left under some soil.
Much like raspberries, blackberries, and similar berries, the mulberry fruit is actually a collection of very small globular fruits, each containing a seed. Beloved by most wildlife, birds especially go cuckoo for mulberry fruits (not Cocoa Puffs), and they are a favorite snack for chickens. We have planted a young tree in our chicken yard for just this purpose–as well as shade and cover–and look forward to those first deep purple, juicy, sweet but not too sweet fruits. If we can get any from the chickens and other birds, that is.
Since the fruits are not as sweet as more common, more heavily domesticated fruits, and because they are so delicate, you are most likely going to need to find a tree somewhere–or plant one!–to enjoy mulberry’s deliciousness. You can often find mulberry in pies, tarts, wines, or jams, though our favorite use is eating them out of hand right off the tree. In recent years, the health benefits of mulberry (particularly white mulberry) have become more popularly known. Its leaves have been used in powdered form to treat diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even the common cold. The fruits are high in antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin K, and they even have a surprising amount of protein for a fruit.
Currently our only recipe for enjoying mulberries involves a tree, the fruit, your hand, and your mouth. But try mulberries next time you make a vegan pie or other recipe calling for berries. (You might need to add a bit more sugar if you like things sweet.)