Mulberry is a grandmother tree - a generous nourisher, ancient provider, friendly to animals and children, gentle, open-armed, laughing in the breeze, sturdy and unassuming, stout and long-fruiting.
Like all things wild and feminine, she has often been labeled weedy, common, and undesirable by Western rationalists. As such, she has been largely relegated to folk stories and children’s songs. But here her power only grows, as she is nowhere more comfortable than among the innocent, the hungry, and the playful.
Like many ancient crones and goddesses, Mulberry is associated with spinning. The silk worm crafts fiber from her leaves to be woven later into fine and flowing silk. Who would guess, from looking at her, that she possesses this hidden power and elegance?
More than 100 species exist in the Morus genus, with the most common being Red Mulberry, Morus rubra (native to the eastern United States), Black Mulberry, Morus nigra (native to western Asia and common in Europe), and White Mulberry, Morus alba (native to eastern and central China). Mulberries are hardy and adaptable trees, though they prefer moist areas near river valleys or flood plains. Mulberry can take the form of the bush widely-known from children’s song, but can also grown into a stately tree reaching heights of 25 to 40 feet. The various species of Mulberry are named for the color of their flowers, not their berries. Fruits are deep red or purplish when ripe, juicy and sweet.
In the ancient world, Mulberry was much more highly-regarded than she is today. The ancient Greeks and Romans venerated the tree (Morus nigra), associating her with Athena and her Roman counterpart, Minerva. Pliny called Mulberry “the wisest of trees.” As one might imagine, Mulberry (Morus alba) was also of great importance in ancient China, where silk production began around 2700 BCE. Some scholars associate Mulberry with Fa-Sang, the mythical tree of life that appears in the art and stories of the Han Dynasty. Among Native Americans, Mulberry (Morus rubra) was widely respected and used for a broad range of nutritive and medicinal purposes. Mulberry remained highly-placed in European thought through the Middle Ages, declining in significance at the same time Rational Thought took center stage and the Scientific Revolution was being born.
Every bit of the Mulberry is useful to humans and animals: twigs and bark have properties that are antibacterial, anti-inflamatory, antihelmintic, and make a useful blood tonic. Mulberries leaves are useful in balancing blood sugar, treating colds, coughs, and fevers, providing opthalmic relief, and treating toothache. The root bark of the generous tree has been effectively used to treat diarrhea, fever, menopause symptoms, and as a diuretic and respiratory support. The fruits are nutritious, full of beneficial anthocyanins. They are also mildly sedative and mildly laxative. This is a bountiful tree, friendly to humans.
There was a Mulberry bush in the corner of my grandparents’ garden that I often visited as a child. Later, I came to know a tall and stately cousin of this childhood friend. We became acquainted at a retreat I was leading. During a break I sought rest and protection from the sun beneath her crown. I swear I heard the laughter of my grandmother in the swish of her thin branches. As I turned my gaze upward, responding to her invitation to pay attention, she danced and shivered with pleasure, busily transforming the sun’s light into sugars to feed her growing berries. Grandmother Mulberry’s leaves are roundly heart-shaped, just smaller than the palm of my hand. In mass, they spread along strong but delicate branches, composing a thinly-packed canopy that allows the sun to filter through, subdued, to the ground below. Enchanted (literally: sung into), I flopped onto my back and surrendered to a delightful afternoon being cared for by this magnificent tree, my daydreams fluttering up to meet her swaying boughs and join the song.