Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"All Around the Mulberry Bush"

        Somewhere around late spring here at Walnut Hollow, the mulberry tree out front turns into something like Grand Central Station in New York City.  It is packed with visitors all day.   The birds begin early, before the kids awaken.   Mulberries are food for 50 species of birds, and a favorite food for 30 species.   You can imagine the noise! Then, I come out with the sun and my colander first thing in the morning.  I gather some berries to top our yogurt or hot cereal.  The kids visit the tree frequently throughout the day, and the snakes hang around looking for distracted birds.  The chickens gobble up most of the fallen berries and everyone gets full.  Now, the mulberry season is wrapping up here in the Virginia countryside, and I am feeling a bit lost thinking about life without fresh mulberries for another year.  Each year we harvest and devour so many mulberries, and I am so thankful for them.   This is one tree that produces prolifically year after year with absolutely zero effort on  my part to fertilize, prune, or otherwise care for.   Therefore, it is one of my favorite trees in the yard, and this year, I decided to find out some more information about our lovely mulberry tree.

     So, here is what I discovered.   Apparently, there are only two species of mulberries native to North America.   The red mulberry (Morus rubra) and the Texas mulberry (Morus microphylla).   Our tree is indeed the native red mulberry.   They seem to thrive around our home, but unfortunately this valuable tree is an endangered species in Connecticut and Massachusetts and a threatened species in Michigan and Vermont.  At my parents farm, they have a white mulberry.   These are an invasive, non-native species that was introduced during the colonial times in an unsuccessful attempt to establish a silkworm industry.  It has been spreading  ever since.   The fruit of the white mulberry is also edible. It is quite sweet, however my family prefers the flavor of the purple ones.  
      So, they are a native tree, easy to care for, and produce prolifically, but I had to wonder about the nutritional analysis of these berries.   My kids eat LOADS of these berries every  late spring, so I wondered what extra vitamins they were loading up on.   I discovered, quite surprisingly, they are an excellent source of iron.  ( quite unusual for a berry).   In addition, they are a good source of vitamin C, have some A, and are rich in the  B- complex vitamins and vitamin K.   They contain several antioxidants and zeaxanthin (an important carotenoid for your eyes).   Wow!  That was enough for me!   Eat up, kids!! 

   We eat lots of fresh berries, but explore lots of ways to preserve them as well.    This year we tried dehydrating them.   Individually, they turned out small and crunchy.   These were OK, but I also tried pureeing them and making leather.  Due to the large amounts of seeds, this was not the best option either.   I did find that pureeing them with equal amounts of strawberries made a much more delicious fruit leather that was not as seedy.    Freezing works great for cobblers or smoothies later.   Just freeze them as you would blueberries.    Also, you can cook with them in most pie recipes.   Just use them as you would blackberries.  Lastly, we did some canning.  (Ok Ok--  I admit, we is used loosely here.     Selene did all the mulberry canning).   However, she did turn out several pints of mulberry jam and it is delicious!