Red Mulberry

Morus rubra

Herbs gallery - Red Mulberry

Common names

  • Red Mulberry

The red mulberry is a tree of a medium size from the Moraceae family. Compared to other trees and plants, the red mulberry has a moderate life span and its rate of growth is average. It can grow to a height of maximum 20 meters, with a diameter of about 45 cm. It is a beautiful tree, with branches spreading wide and a nice rounded shape. The trunk of the red mulberry is short but usually very burly, with a dark brown colored bark that is either scaly or smooth. The branches spread from the trunk to form a crown with a round shape and the young branches are covered with a fine hair.

The leaves of the red mulberry have a length of up to 20 cm. They have the shape of an egg and are simple and alternate. They are broad and lobed, with a pointy sharp tip. The edges are sharply serrated. While the leaves are rough on their upper surface, the lower one is soft and its short hairs can sometimes be irritating to the skin. The leaves do not survive more than one year and fall in the autumn.

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The petioles contain a white milky fluid that gets produced if their break and have a length of 2 to 3 cm. The stamen catkins are longer, usually 2 to 5 cm. The ones that bear pistils tend to be shorter, no more than 2-2.5 cm.

The tree is active during the spring and summer, with the bloom starting in the spring as soon as the weather gets warm. The fruits start to develop in the spring and mature during the summer, when the seeds are formed. The fruits are fragile, with a juicy consistency and are aggregate. They are usually 2-3 cm long, with an intense purple color.

Parts used

Leaves, fruits, root bark.

Uses

The red mulberry fruits have a lot of benefits. Unlike some other fruits with a positive effect on health, they are sweet and delicious to eat. They are one of the few natural sources of the antioxidant resveratrol, which is considered very important in heart diseases and has a beneficial effect on overall health. Because of resveratrol, the consumption of red mulberries can prevent artery clots and reduce the risk of strokes, usually associated with the cuisine and lifestyle of the Mediterranean. Other useful nutrients in the fruit are iron, fibers, proteins, vitamins A and C and calcium. In addition, they can be used to treat gastric problems and have a positive effect on digestion.

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Resveratrol in particular is considered by doctors and scientists as a very promising antioxidant. Its properties as a heart protector and ability to lower the bad cholesterol have been known for a long time after the research on the benefits of red wine consumption. However, new studies have discovered that it might also delay the effects of diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. It also reduces chronic inflammations, and acts as an antiviral and anti-cancer compound. The fruit also contains other antioxidant substances, which delay the aging process and stop the damage caused by free radicals on body tissues and cells.

The fruits of the red mulberry are also beneficial due to another powerful antioxidant, the pigment of the fruit - anthocyanin. Anthocyanins give the fruit its intense color and tend to have the highest concentration in fruits from warm areas with a lot of sunshine, where the fruits have the darkest color. Studies have revealed that this antioxidant is very useful in the treatment of various forms of cancer.

Some of the Native American nations have traditionally used red mulberry to treat a variety of diseases. The leaves were used by the Cherokee tribes to prepare a tea that was used as a cure for urinary problems, dysentery or weakness. Several tribes treated ringworms with red mulberry sap. The fruits were an important source of food for the Comanche.

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The leaves of the red mulberry tree have many benefits and help reduce the level of sugar in the blood, lower cholesterol, increase the bone mass and structural strength, prevent hypertension and constipation and improve digestion. It is also believed they help with weight loss.

The fruits have numerous other uses. Traditionally, they have been known to refresh and nourish the blood. Remedies prepared from red mulberries can prevent heart problems, reduce cholesterol and improve the ability of the body to fight infections.

The consumption of the fruits increases bone density, thus being very valuable against osteoporosis. It can also cause weight loss and relieve fatigue. Other known benefits of the fruits are eliminating chronic inflammation and its associated pain, calming the nerves, preserving the liver and kidneys, as well as fighting anemia and chronic weakness.

Another interesting effect of the fruit is boosting the libido. Even the premature greying of the hair can be prevented by constantly eating red mulberries.

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Flavonoids have been discovered in the bark of the tree that can potentially be used in the treatment of diabetes. This is because studies have proven that the flavonoids reduce the level of glucose in the blood and at the same time increase the production of insulin. The bark is also known to be a powerful diuretic and expectorant agent, as well as having anthelmintic properties.

The roots can be prepared as a tea, which has a variety of uses. It acts like a panacea, healing with dysentery, urination issues, tapeworms and excessive weakness. Its bark has cathartic properties. Ringworms can be eliminated using either the milky white juice from the leaves or the tree sap. According to several reports, fevers can be cured using the red mulberry fruit.

In America, red mulberry was used to develop a silk industry but this idea was abandoned. However, the tree found other industrial uses. Spanish explorers have produced ropes for their ships using fibers from the bark. Choctaw Indians have been using the fibers for a long time, in order to craft cloaks. The wood is not very strong but it can be made into craft products, fences and doors, as well as furniture. It has an attractive look due to its red brown color but the small logs and rarity of the wood have limited its use.

Culinary uses

The fruit is very juicy and delicious but at the same time very fragile. They are not easy to harvest intact because they fall from the tree when ripe and are damaged when they hit the ground. The red mulberries can be eaten raw or cooked. They can also be prepared as preserves or as a powder after drying and grounding, in order to make a confection with nuts and almonds. Other parts of the tree are edible as well, young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw, mixed into salads, or cooked.

Habitat and cultivation

The red mulberry tree is very common in the United States and is native to the eastern and central parts of the North American continent. Its range starts in southern Florida and extends all the way to Vermont, Minnesota and Ontario, as well as central Texas and to the west in Nebraska, Kansas and the south-eastern parts of South Dakota. It can also be found in the states of Idaho and New Mexico, or British Columbia in Canada but the populations are small and isolated, probably a result of naturalization.

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In Canada the red mulberry is threatened by hybridization with its relative the white mulberry (M. alba), an invasive species introduced from Asia. As a result, the tree is listed among the endangered species in the country.

The tree is tolerant and can grow on many types of soils, as long as they are moist. It grows best along streams in ravines and sheltered spots, on moist soils with good drainage. However, the small and light seeds can travel long distances due to the birds that feed on them, so the red mulberry can be found in many spots with reasonably wet soil.

In favourable locations, such as river valleys, low hills with enough moisture and flood plains, the tree can grow very fast. The largest trees can be found in the Ohio River valley, while the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains are home to the ones growing at the highest elevations, of over 2000 feet. The main use of the tree is due to the fruits, which are consumed by both humans and small animals and birds. The wood is not considered important.

The tree can commonly be bought from plant dealers, tree nurseries, garden stores and other distributors.

Propagation is most easily done by seeds. For best results, the seeds must be sown as soon as they ripe, an alternative being during the cold periods of February. After 2-3 months of cold stratification, the seeds germinate vigorously. In most cases, the germination happens after the first spring, but sometimes it needs one extra year and will start growing in the next spring. As soon as they are large enough to be handled, seedlings should be grown in their first winter in the cold frame placed in individual pots. After the last periods of frost, in late spring or early summer, they can be planted in the ground. Another option for propagation is cuttings. The half-ripe wood should be cut about 7-10 cm with a heel in July or August and planted in the next spring, most of them will grow but not all will thrive. Mature wood can be cut in autumn or spring 25 - 30 cm with a heel of 2 year old wood, buried three quarters in depth and layered in autumn.

Side effects and cautions

Several parts of the tree can have negative effects. The most common are digestive disorders after eating fruits that are not fully ripe. Dermatitis can be caused to sensitive persons by the milky sap in the leaves or just by direct contact with leaves and stems. The white sap can also cause problems in the central nervous system, as well as hallucinations.

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