The first time I met a mulberry, it was a confusing introduction. At the time, I considered my general plant knowledge to be better than average, but somehow, this unfamiliar tree didn’t make sense.
It was a beautifully shaped, open grown tree with scalloped alternate leaves that I couldn’t identify offhand (because mulberry trees come in several different shapes). I knew sassafras had three leaf shapes, but this tree clearly wasn’t sassafras. And, weirdest of all, it was positively dripping with a bounty of berries that for all the world, looked like blackberries. But a full-on blackberrytree? That couldn’t be right.
The flocks of robins and woodpeckers flitting through the branches, however, knew what I didn’t at the time. They understood that the abundance offered by these common trees is something to eat, not gawk at. When I sampled my first mulberry that day, I was shocked by the sweet, vanilla-honey-berry flavor. With berries on the brain, I started seeing mulberry trees everywhere that summer — along city sidewalks, country lanes, and park avenues, and below them the ground was carpeted with free fruit.
How did I make it all the way to my 20s and never taste a mulberry? No idea, but I’ve done my best to make up for it in the years that followed that summer afternoon. These sweet, warm-weather treats have since become one of my favorite wild fruits, and if you’ve made it this far in life without gathering an ample handful of finger-staining goodness, I hope to help you rectify that error.
Finding and Identifying Mulberries
There are four species of mulberry in the United States: some native, some introduced, all edible.
As you’ll soon discover, mulberry leaves, while distinctive to the genus, are anything but consistent. They’re scalloped, sometimes lobed, and sometimes entire. They have a family resemblance, however, and so the best advice I have is to get out there and find as many mulberry trees as you can. The more you observe them in person, the more you’ll recognize them in all their weird and wacky shapes.
Morus nigrais an introduced species found scattered across the lower portion of the country, but it is relatively rare.Morus microphylla, the Texas mulberry, is a native tree constrained to parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. I’ve never encountered these two species and won’t be featuring them in this article, but everything I say about mulberries applies to them if you happen to have access.
The real food haul is to be found withMorus albaandMorus rubra,the two species that carpet the land from coast-to-coast. If you encounter a mulberry tree, it’s very likely one of these two.
American mulberry (M. rubra) is a native species, often growing in the forest understory as a graceful, slender-limbed tree. The leaves have a fine grit sandpaper feel, with a distinctive sinus-step tooth in the hollows of the leaf-shape (if the leaf has lobes, that is) and often, an elongated tip.
It’s easy to confuse unlobed leaves before fruiting.
It produces dark purple fruit that is large and sweet.
The poorly-named white mulberry (M. alba) is an Asian species that was brought over as food for the silkworm industry and never really took off in the United States. Instead, it has naturalized to the point of becoming our most abundant mulberry species. Unlike American mulberry, it has smooth, shiny leaves that notably lack both that bitty “tooth” in the sinuses of the leaves and the elongated tip.
Its tree form is generally denser and more robust, especially if it’s growing in the open (which they often do). The fruit is a bit shorter thanM. rubra尽管它的名字叫蓝黑色，但成熟后通常会变成同样的蓝黑色。
偶尔，特定的树木会结出白色或粉白色的果实，但大多数不会。为这些亚洲树木命名的分类学家当时只观察到白果树，给它们起了一个从长远来看毫无意义的名字。This confusion often leads folks to incorrectly identify black-fruited white mulberry asM. rubra, and identify the few white-fruited white mulberry trees asM. alba;totally deleting the true American mulberry from field guides and foraging books.
The confusion is so prevalent, that when we ordered American mulberry seedlings from our local department of conservation, they actually sent us the non-native Asian trees, mislabeled asM. rubra. I wasn’t aware of the mistaken identity until this year, when I realized a few of our 30 plus trees had white fruit. I took a closer look at their shiny leaves, and the truth was revealed.
There’s really nothing that looks like a mulberry fruit, except a mulberry fruit. If you see blackberry-like fruit on a tree in early summer, it’s guaranteed that you’ve found the right tree. Isn’t it nice when things are that straightforward?
If the tree isn’t fruiting, it may be easy to confuse nonlobed mulberry trees with American basswood (Tilia americana) or slippery elm (Ulmus rubra)．如果你要的是水果，这种潜在的混淆是没有危险的——很明显，这两棵树不会产生桑葚。
If it’s the edible leaves you’re after (more on that soon), there’s still little danger. Basswood leaves are similarly edible and delicious. And slippery elm leaves have ahistory of being used for tea, so there’s no toxic threat.
There should be no guessing in foraging, however — get acquainted with the distinctively asymmetrical base of a slipperyelm leafand you’ll be able to tell the difference between it and mulberry.
Though I see no need to hurry through a berry picking session, you can speed up the process by setting down a tarp and giving the branches a good shake. The ripe berries will rain down, usually with a helping of stink bugs and ants. Thankfully, mulberries float, making cleaning your wild haul a bit easier.
Mulberry trees have quite edible leaves. The young, green-branched shoots of spring are tender for a choice meal, but any leaf can be used. They’re tasty, don’t have any bitter flavor, and are abundantly available through the tree’s growing season. Both raw or cooked, you can use them as you would any other tender, enjoyable green. If eating raw, however, try to pick the youngest, most tender, bright-green leaves you can. Leaves that have fully matured may leave you chewing for longer than you want.
Beyond the salads or stir-fries, leaves can be dried and used for tea.Leaves have also been dried, ground, and added to flour as a nutritional amendment.
Cooking and Using Mulberries
For fresh eating, there’s little that can improve a fresh mulberry. Gather them by the handful or try them individually. You may be pleasantly surprised to find the range of flavors found from tree to tree. In my own little mulberry glade, for example, I have some trees that taste candy-like, while others have a more subtle sweetness. Just don’t judge a mulberry by the first bite. The next berry may taste different.
When cooked, however, they do sometimes leave a little to be desired. The first time I made a mulberry crumble, I mixed it with strawberries, and it was absolutely decadent. The second time I made a mulberry crumble, I made it with pure mulberry, and it was unremarkably bland. As I soon learned, the sweetness of the berries can be unbalanced when heated. I think it’s because they lack any noticeable acidity. If you combine mulberries with a nice, tart apple, a dash of lemon juice, or some fresh wild strawberries, it will make a world of improved difference. In his bookIncredible Wild EdiblesSamuel Thayer建议在制作果酱和蜜饯时，将成熟和未成熟的水果混合，作为一种平衡口味的替代方法。
If you can’t decide how to use your mulberry glut all at once, it’s super easy to freeze mulberries until you’re ready to use them.
Mulberries can be juiced, cooked into syrup,fermented or cooked into finger-staining chutneys和其他浆果的用法差不多。有些人对那些顽强附着的小茎大惊小怪。我认为这不是问题，没有注意到他们。桑葚不像黑莓等其他水果那样有嚼劲的种子，这一点很好地弥补了这一点。如果它们确实困扰着你，那么把水果煮熟，然后送进食品研磨机。这样就可以很好地清理它了。