A JOURNEY IN SEARCH OF WISDOM THAT BRINGS ORDER OUT OF CHAOS IN THE NATURAL WORLD
Sunday, September 13, 2009
MULBERRIES, MULBERRIES EVERYWHERE!
I do have these trees everywhere. They grow as weeds on my farm. I have a deep respect for many weeds as forage foods and so do not consider it derogatory to name this wonderful tree a weed. Berry time is a time of feasting; usually September/October; coming up very soon. There is such an abundance of fruit that it is the one harvest I am not competing with the monkeys for.
Something super about the mulberry is that the fruit ripens over an extended period of time and not all at once, thus affording a longer harvest season. I have also noticed that some trees will come into bearing even a month after others. This does not seem to be the difference between the Black and the White, but the difference between one tree and another. Perhaps location has something to do with this. I have started watching for this. One year a tree up higher on the mountain came into bearing a good 3 months after the others had all finished.
Another good quality about this tree is that it will bear fruit from quite young and small. The fruit are smaller than a more mature tree but are still available to eat. I have a favourite Black Mulberry that must be well over 15 years now and produces lovely big black fruit every year. That is one tree I want to get to before the monkeys do.
I know of three common types of mulberry: The Black (Morus nigra), the Red (Morus rubra), and the White (Morus alba). I have the Black and the White growing naturally on my farm. The Black are by far the best tasting mulberry. The white can be very sweet if you wait long enough for them to turn a lilac colour. The Chinese use the White Mulberry. I have read that the Black mulberry is the least cold tolerant of the three and the White the most tolerant. It has been said the Red mulberries seldom live longer than 75 years but that Black Mulberries have been known to bear fruit for hundreds of years.
The mulberry is worth considering for any farm or food forest. The fruit is not available in the stores because the shelf-life is too short. They are easy to cultivate. The mulberries can be eaten, cooked, dried and frozen. To cook them just let them gently simmer in their own juice until the mixture becomes a liquid sauce. If you wish to offset the sweetness you can add a little lemon or lime juice, and some lemon or even orange rind. Thicken for a pudding or save to pour over ice-cream or whatever takes your fancy. If the berries are dried in a dehydrator they store well and can be a delicious snack, especially the Black mulberry. I want to experiment this season. The young unopened leaves can be boiled as a tender vegetable. I have read that the mature leaves are toxic and even mildly hallucinogenic. I have not found them so. But take care. I have eaten many mature leaves and have come to no harm, but would advise caution. Use wise foraging principles and you should be safe; just a nibble first. For recipes, pears and apples blend well with mulberries. I bet these together could be delicious as a frozen ice.
They can also be made into wine and liqueur. Just google “Homemade mulberry wine” and you will come up with tons of recipes for wines; but one that really caught my attention for its simplicity and unusual ingredients I found here at foodreference.com : http://www.foodreference.com/html/wine-mulberry-wine-recipe.html
There are many more uses for the mulberry tree. Not only is the fruit delicious, but the leaves are edible too; in fact a desirable food, not only to the silkworm. Horses, goats, sheep, rabbits and fish will forage on these leaves. And I do too. Yes. As with the Moringa I dry these leaves for winter to use in smoothies. They have excellent health benefits. The leaves are reputed to have high mineral content. I have read of the leaves being juiced. Sifting is required because there is a large amount of fibre which can get stuck in your teeth. It is said to taste like wheatgrass. Never tasted wheat grass so I don’t know. I have only added fresh leaves to an apple fruit porridge I make and so can verify the high fibre content of the leaves. More commonly the leaves are dried and drunk as a tea. Infusion of the leaves of the white mulberry as a tea is said to give many health benefits; mostly in the fight against diabetes and as a source of anti-oxidants. It is said that certain glucose blocking factors prevent the body from absorbing certain sugars when drinking mulberry tea. Some even boast it aids in weight loss because of this. Perhaps there really are some benefits in weight loss, but I think eating less while maximising nutrition is the best way to do this. As an aside I have found Intermittent Fasting is a superb eating life-style, both for weight-loss and health. Anyone interested in this subject should download a free e-book I read by Dr Bert Herring on the subject. It really helped me. It can be found here: http://www.fast-5.com/Fast-5-ebook100.pdf . A marvellous health tool.
Back to Mulberry tea. This is a waxy leaf and so a longer brewing time is needed than for the average green tea. Eight minutes with water that is just beginning to boil makes an excellent health drink.
Even the root bark is used medicinally. It is supposed to act as a diuretic and help with coughs and asthma. This is new to me so not much else to say. Some things I just mention to remind me to experiment one day.
The mulberry is best known as feed for the silkworm (Bombyx Mori) It is best to get the white Chinese silkworm if you want to use the silk. The cocoon is white. The zebra silkworm has a yellow cocoon. It took me some time to discover how the thread is wound off the cocoon. Working with fibres fascinates me and I would like to one day add this to the Angora, Mohair, and Cashmere fibres I plan to use. Whole cocoons are placed in boiling water and gently stirred to separate the twisted threads from each other. You can put them in an oven first to kill of the worm quickly. I am not sure of the temperature but it needs to be hot enough to quickly kill without harming the silk. Experiment. Then into the hot water. This is how the end of a single long thread of about 3600 feet is located. Commercially 8 cocoons are unravelled together and spun into a yarn on a spinning machine. You can do it quite simply at home with hot water, a toothpick to find the end of the thread, and a pencil to wind it on. You can take 3 or 4 threads and twist together to make silk thread. I would love to hear from anyone who has successfully tried this.
We can look to the Chinese for other uses for the Mulberry too. Integration of silkworms and mulberries with fish farming is a natural progression. The silkworm faeces and pupae can be fed to the fish and thereby add an excellent protein into this bio-system. Just throw the silkworm residue into the pond. The pond silt makes an excellent fertilizer for the mulberry and other forage crops. These forage crops can bring an increase in livestock that can be added. If this is all done within natural parameters no outside inputs should be needed. It was done before agri-business had us convinced we needed them. It can be done again. Mulberry leaves can be harvested every 90 days. Drying seems to be the best way to conserve the protein content of the leaf. I have done this. It merely requires air-drying in a dust-free environment.
The Mulberry is considered by some as exceptional forage. I know that my tilapia fish will polish off every leaf of a lopped-off branch that I have thrown into the pond. They even eat the bark. This is great; like throwing in a living larder. And I do mean living. The branches sometimes even grow back leaves after being stripped. The pond water is obviously so rich in nitrates that they manage this without roots. I have even seen berries develop on a couple of branches long after I have thrown the lopped branch into the pond!
Protein content of the leaves is said to be between 15 and 28%. It is a highly productive perennial forage. The leaves can be used as supplements replacing concentrates for dairy cattle. I have read that to offer it to cattle it is best offered finely chopped. I plan to try this out with 2 Jersey cows one day. At the moment I am establishing forage for the livestock I will one day acquire. The Mulberry leaves can also be used as the main feed for goats, sheep and rabbits. The mulberry leaves are so palatable that small ruminants will avidly consume fresh leaves and young stems when offered to them even if they have never tasted them before. It does seem to be a preferred forage. Mix it with a selection and the mulberry will be searched out. A note of caution: Be careful with rabbits. They do not have digestive juices as we do, but digest their food by way of bacteria in their gut – so any new foods need be added in very small quantities at first, to build up the necessary bacteria. Should this care not be taken, the rabbit will fill up on the new food and the food will sit in the gut until it ferments and the creature could die of bloat. No bacteria, no digestion. To give it to chickens it is shade dried and given in the mash of laying hens. I have read that this gives better yolk colour and increased egg size. Time will tell. I will write more as I experiment.
Something a little more unusual is raising snails on mulberry leaves. I mention this because I might one day try this. Escargot are highly prized by some. Not me. But some. : )
Guinea pigs and iguanas have also been fed mulberry leaves.
Mulberry wood has many uses to. It is highly water resistant and very good for building ships. Because it grows faster than other woody plants it is very good for biomass production as a raw material for paper production. The mulberry wood has also been found to be a good source of media for mushroom production.
I think I have us convinced that the mulberry is a wonderful addition to any food forest or garden!