Mullberries are a wonderful fruit and one that the tree produces easily and in great numbers. In the old world, these fruits are cooked down into a health building molasses. Mullberry molasses can be used in place of sugar, and, comes packing health benefits sugar cannot claim!
I Maccabees 6:34: They showed the elephants the juice of grapes and mulberries, to arouse them for battle. Isaiah 40:20: He who is impoverished chooses for an offering wood that will not rot, he seeks out a skilful craftsmen to set up an image that will not move.
Luke 17:5-6: The apostles said to the lord, increase our faith. And the lord said, if you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say this to the sycamore tree, be rooted up, and be planted in the sea, and it would obey you.
Ezekiel 16:10 and 13 and I covered thee with silk, and thy payment was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered work.
Revelation 18:12 Also, the travelling merchants of the earth were weeping and mourning over her, because there is no one to buy their full stock any more. A full stock of gold and liver and precious stone and pearls, and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet.
The fruit mentioned in Maccabees, mulberry, is known in Hebrew as tut. For a change, there is no doubt in anybodies mind that tut refers to the mulberry tree and the fruit it produces. The last four quotes do not refer to the mulberry directly, but it is implied. In Isaiah, the wood referred to is the wood of the mulberry tree. In Luke, sycamore is a mistranslation. In the later two quotes we see silk mentioned. Silk is made from the cocoon of a moth that feeds on mulberry leaves. The silk producing moths only eat mulberry leaves. If you want to produce silk, you have to grow mulberry trees. When you see silk mentioned in the Bible, you know a mulberry tree was somewhere in the background.
The Israelites were well aware of the plant and it had a place in Israelite culture. In the Talmud, the Rabbis liken a thief that has stolen mulberries, has stained hands and denies stealing, to a biblical story. In Cain and Abel story a brother with blood on his hands denies wrong doing. The Israelites knew the mulberry tree well enough that the Rabbi's stipulate that the tree produces edible fruit 52 days after it blooms. Not 48 days, not 56 days, exactly 52 days after the bloom occurs! Where as the Bible leaves something to the imagination, the Talmud fills in the blanks.
There are two species of mulberry found growing in Israel, Morus alba, the white mulberry, and Morus nigra, the black mulberry. The white mulberry was brought to Israel around 600 BC. as a source of food for the silk producing moths. Some scholars say that when you read of silk in Genesis and Exodus, you are reading a mistranslation. Genesis is dated to 1715 BC and Exodus 1491 BC. In that the tree that feeds the moths didn't arrive until 600 BC, we may have a problem. Some scholars say that silk would have been unknown to the Israelites in these early days. I don't agree. If cinnamon was brought from Sri Lanka early in Israelite history, I'm sure some silk could have made its way to the Holy Land from China were it was produced at an early date. It might be more accurate to say that the silk mentioned early in the Bible was imported. In any case, Morus alba is native to northern China and Morus nigra is native to western Asia. The ancient Israelites had access to both mulberries from 600 BC which most would agree was a long time ago.
Scholars say the first definite reference to silk produced in Israel can be seen in Ezekiel, sometime around 594 BC. Ezekiel is thought to have come across silk production while in captivity in Babylon. The Hebrew word for silk is meshi and it was likely in production in the Holy Land not too long after that date. In a manner of speaking, silk production was introduced fairly late, the Chinese had been working with the magical fibre since the year 4000 BC. That was 6000 years ago.
What is true of silk is that as soon as it arrived in a region, people talked about it. You can see why. At the time it arrived in Israel the people only knew three fabrics, wool, linen, and to a lesser extent, cotton. When there are only three shows in town, people take notice of a new comer. It had made its way from Asia minor to southern Europe in 350 BC as Theophrastus talks all about it. People knew "nice", even in the smelly old days. Silk worms and the white mulberry tree entered western Europe in the sixth century AD. Silk culture was not an instant success, but by 1146 AD it was big business in Sicily and from there it spread to Italy, Spain and southern France by about the year 1510 AD. The mulberry was introduced into England in 1548 and King James I seemed rather hot on the idea of the silk business setting up. If you didn't grow it, you had to buy it, and silk has never been cheap.
There is a fairly nasty Biblical story that surrounds the mulberry tree. There is said to have been a really old mulberry tree in Jerusalem located somewhat in the centre of town. The tree was old enough that people around town knew it well. For one reason or another, King Manasseh chose a spot under the old mulberry tree to have the prophet Isaiah cut in half. I guess there were not friends.
In the ancient world, where there was silk, you could find mulberry trees. Where the mulberry tree grew, people used it for medicine. They also had myths they attached to the tree. In Europe, people said that the devil polished his boots with the mulberry fruits. In classical mythology, the tree was said to have originally born white berries. The lovers Pyramis and Thesbe allegedly died below the tree and their blood splashed up and stained the fruit purple. The myth goes on to say that the tree, from that moment forward, produced purple fruit. It makes you wonder how they died. Much like Isaiah's finish, it probably was an very ugly situation.
Apart from the leaves being used as food for hungry silk worms, the tree produced medicine. The people around the Holy Land used the bark of the tree to treat coughs and colds. They said it was antitussive or anti-cough and an expectorant. The same bark was used to increase urination. The leaves were used to break a fever. The fruit were considered to be a tonic good for treating nerve troubles, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
One of the reasons I love researching herbal medicine as much as I do is that you come across such strange little pieces of information. As I was looking into the tree I came across a really bizarre quote from Gerard. I thought I should pass it on. "Hegesander of Athens affirmeth, that the mulberries trees in his time did not bring forth fruit in twentie years, and that so great a plague of the gout then raigned and raged so generally, as not only men, but boies, wenches, eunuchs, and women were troubled with the disease." If you can figure out the connection between the mulberry trees of Athens not fruiting for twenty years and everybody developing gout, write me, and you will get a prize. Gerard somehow felt they were connected!
Gerard did have some useful things to say about the mulberry. "Of the iuice of the ripe berries is made a confection with sugar, called diamorum, that is , after the manner of a syrrup, which is exceeding good for the ulcers and hot swellings of the tongue,throat, and almonds, or vuula of the throat, or any other maladie arising in those parts; they are good against inflammation or hot swelling of the moth and iawes, and for other inflammations newly beginning." Almonds of the throat are the tonsils, in case you were wondering. The idea that mulberry syrup was good for throat infections and oral ulcers is not confined to Gerard. It was generally seen as being good for the respiratory tract. Gerard also said that the bark, the leaves, and a gum exuded from the tree, were good for treating tooth ache and a blocked digestive tract. He quotes Galen and Dioscorides. Both were well acquainted with the plant and were of the mind that a tea made of the tree parts would drive worms out of the digestive tract.
The Chinese say the white mulberry is native to China. The Indians say it is native to India. In fact, it seems to be native to the temperate regions of the Himalayas. The Indians used it to feed silk worms and as a medicine. In "Indian Plants and Drugs" we see similar ideas as those that Gerald passed onto us. "It yields a pleasant acidulous fruit which is eaten fresh, or made into a preserve or syrup which is useful as a refrigerant in fevers and as an expectorant in coughs and sore throat. It is also slightly laxative and keeps best as a syrup." The Indian doctors agreed that mulberry fruit made a great cough syrup, would loosen the bowels, and added that it reduced temperatures. By the by, the Pakistanis also say that the fruit is cooling and laxative.
In my experience, when people from a warm climate say that a plant is cooling, they know what they are talking about. The Indians and Pakistanis have a hot summer. Whether to refresh yourself on a scorcher or to reduce a temperature, mulberries are tops. The amazing part is that no one in America eats them. You can drive through most American cities in August and see blankets of mulberries on the ground left untouched! Dumb, Dumb, Dumb.
The Chinese have a lot to say about the tree's use in medicine. They use various parts of the tree to treat a host of conditions. I have gleaned through a number of Chinese sources and have created a list of uses recommend by the Chinese. Some of the uses are ones you have seen before, others are new.
leaf: ophthalmia, water retention, upset stomach.
bruised leaves: headache and influenza.
latex: aphthous stomatitis, bug bites, and snake bites.
twigs: prevention of the common cold, rheumatism, water retention, and lung problems.
stem bark: epilepsy, dribbling saliva, diabetes.
Fruit: hypertension, insomnia, neurasthenia, anti-aging agent, diabetes.
root: wasting conditions, too frequent menstruation, spitting of blood, and weakness.
root bark: abdominal distension, anasarca, asthma, cough, coughing up blood, weakness, poor health, susceptibility to infections.
As you can see, the Chinese use the plant for many, many conditions. The common denominators amongst all the ancient cultures is that they felt parts of the tree were good at improving the respiratory functions, increased urination, relieved insomnia, and improve the functioning of the digestive tract. It has been called a tonic to the respiratory, urinary, and digestive tract. The Chinese know their medicinal plants and when they say the root bark is tonic to the general constitution, take the cotton out of your ears and listen up. Stuart Fitzsimmons said this of it, " Mulberries are a very good cleanser and is very good for pimples. Ten grams of the berries are made into a tea and drunk each and every day. It is a long term treatment for a long term problem. It works in all sorts of acne, teenage and menstrual included. It can also be used in boils and furuncles. Any suppurative skin condition is made better by its use."
Dr.Hansard had a few interesting things to say about our unused fruit, "Mulberry is an introduced plant in Tibet, it is not native. The bark is used to fight infections that have become systemic and to treat degenerative diseases like tb, cancer, and arthritis. We powder the wood and apply it to stop pain from spreading. The root is used to activate the bowels when there has been constipation of long standing. The leaf is good for all kinds of gynaecological and female problems. The dried fruit is an excellent tonic for all health problems."
My favourite use of the plant is as a cough syrup. I used to collect the berries and boil them with sugar to make one, but then I went to medical school in England and learned a handy trick from the director of my school, Hyn Zeylstra. Mr.Zeylstra should be up for a sainthood for his work of keeping herbal medicine alive and in use in the modern world. Anyhow, his secret for making syrups is to make syrups without cooking the ingredients. His thinking is that cooking alters or destroys the active ingredients of a plant and when possible, it is better to avoid using heat. He taught me that if you mix one cup of a fresh plant material with one cup of sugar, and let the mixture sit, a syrup will be formed. It is true and it does work. To make a cough syrup for year round use, pick mulberries in the summer. Mix one cup berries with one cup of sugar, put in a sealed container, and wait. In a weeks time a marvellous syrup will be formed. Strain the mixture and store the syrup in the refrigerator for those colds that are bound to happen later in the year.
Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.