How to Identify Mulberries - Foraging for Edible Wild Berries
Why oh why do so many people consider mulberry trees to be a nuisance?
I would be perfectly content if every tree in the city was a mulberry—if not for the fact that I’d be missing out on all the serviceberries, cherries, pawpaws, apples, plums, pears, persimmons, black walnuts, hickory nuts, pecans and more that grow freely for everybody and nobody in my nearest urban environment.
Mulberries are a very common tree found growing all throughout cities and towns across North America. Many (sub)urbanized people dislike ‘em because they stain everything they fall on, like sidewalks, cars, or your shiny bald head when you’re walking down the street. Thankfully there’s an easy way to solve this problem: eat them all!
Mulberries will generally ripen through the month of June for most of us and into July in some cooler climates. Nothing looks quite like a mulberry so there’s no need to worry about misidentification, though I did have someone ask me if I had ever seen or heard of a “blackberry tree” once, and I could only assume he had stumbled upon a mulberry due to the similar shape and color of the berries.
There are many species of mulberries in the world, but here in North America we are most likely to run into Morus alba (white mulberry), M. nigra (black mulberry), or M. rubra (red mulberry). All are edible but the flavor varies quite a bit between species and between individual trees, so give ‘em a taste test before diving in. And good luck positively IDing your sample! Mulberries readily hybridize, so “black fruit” does not necessarily mean “black mulberry.”
Black and red mulberries are generally preferred for their tart sweetness reminiscent of blackberries, while white mulberries (actually more lavender-tinted when fully ripe) have a tendency to be somewhat bland. However, there isn’t much out there that tastes quite like an especially good white mulberry: floral, fragrant, and with hints of vanilla and pineapple. So don’t discount the whites altogether if you’ve had a lackluster experience with them before!
How do you know when they’re ready to eat? A fully ripe mulberry is very, very soft (which is one reason why you’ll never see them at the supermarket) and will fall from the branch with the slightest agitation. If you have to apply force to pick it off, it’s not ready yet.
This can lead to endless frustration when you try to pick one berry, but brush up against a nearby branch and end up sending a solid handful of ripe berries tumbling into the grass, never to be seen again.
The simplest solution, then, is to lay a sheet or tarp underneath your mulberry tree of choice and shake the crap out of the branches! Every ripe berry—and then some—will fall to the ground, and then it’s much easier to gather them up from there.
Raw mulberries are a staple of my diet in the month of June, but I also freeze as many as I can get my hands on for use in desserts and fermented drinks through the rest of the year – one of the best batches of mead I’ve ever made was brewed with mulberries, so definitely give that a shot.
Mulberries lack that tart, sour note that distinguishes an ideal jam/jelly fruit, but I’m sure they’d be fantastic mixed with more traditional jam berries like cherries, raspberries, or blueberries, if you want to go that route.
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