Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gardening & Recipe: Mulberry Trees and Homemade Jam!

With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown. – Chinese proverb

Photo: Martin LaBar, Flickr ccl
Today is June 19, two days left in Spring 2011. If you go to many of the local garden centres you wouldn’t know it… Things are starting to go on sale! Yes, it’s like the end of the gardening season is upon us, even though summer has yet to start. I would prefer if they opened a little later and stayed open until late in September. Locally, these "seasonal" garden centres are closed up and gone by August.

Why seasonal garden centres (Canadian Tire, Walmart, Sobeys and Superstore that I know of) are marking plants down for sale now is beyond me. I’m not complaining about saving money—but come on—it’s not even summer. In Nova Scotia we have fantastic weather well into October! But if you want to save money and are thinking of new plants go now. The selection is still very good.

Photo: jamieanne, Flickr ccl
Regardless of my feelings of rushing to an aritificial season's end, I did take advantage of the situation at Walmart. I purchased a fantastic fruiting weeping mulberry tree. Seven feet high, nice strong arching branches, and already set with the beginnings of this year’s crop. All for about $35 CAN. You can’t beat that for what I consider a really nice, healthy looking tree.

There is a very old, gnarled weeping mulberry growing in front of a large house on Young Avenue in Halifax. It's about 15 feet wide, branching right to the ground absolutely stunning. Having hope for the future is a priceless commodity that anyone who plants a seed possesses. Hopefully my tree will grow and flourish.


Have you ever eaten a mulberry?
Mulberries are similar to raspberries and blackberries. They are an “aggregate” fruit, meaning that each “berry” is composed of multiple fruits called drupes. The flavour of black mulberries has been described as tart and sweet. Think a cross between a raspberry and citrus. 

A fully ripened mulberry is so dark purple they are almost black. As with other dark coloured fruit, they can stain quite easily. There are also red mulberries and white. As the colour decreases so does the intensity of flavour.

Birds love the fruit so you might have some competition for harvesting. They also tend to fall from the tree when fully ripe, so don’t plant anywhere where the fruit may be stepped on and brought through the house.

Fruiting mulberry have both male and female flowers on the same tree. Mulberries do not have a long shelf life so make sure you use them promptly. This is the reason they are not common in the produce section of our local groceries. But by growing your own you can get a decent crop and enjoy the tree in your garden as well.


A mature weeping mulberry in Halifax's
Public Gardens. Photo: ©MSDean
What do they look like?
Mulberry trees tend to grow quite quickly when young but then slow down as they mature. Weeping mulberries have branches that arch and can trail down to the ground. This has distinct advantages in harvesting, as you can imagine.

Mulberries are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the winter. The shape of a weeping mulberry in the winter adds great interest to the garden with the sturdy stalk and branches forming a rounded canopy much like an umbrella.

Mulberry trees were used to feed silk worms in China, and were brought to North America for that purpose, although that industry waned. The weeping species can grow to about 15 feet high and quite wide. They require full sun to do their best and are hardy to USDA Zones 4 through 8. Nova Scotia is Zones 5-6, depending on your location.

Because of the dense leaf cover whatever grows underneath tends to not survive. I have read it is recommended to plant spring flowering bulbs underneath, which are through with their growing season by the time the leaf canopy develops.


Health benefits of Mulberries
Photo: Vanessa Pike-Russell, Flickr ccl

  • Low in calories (43 cal per 100 g); but rich source of many health promoting plant derived compounds, minerals.
  • High amounts of phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals called anthocyanins that have health benefits that aid against cancer, stroke, aging and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections.
  • Excellent source of vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C helps develop resistance against infectious agents, counter inflammation and scavenge harmful free radicals.
  • Good amount vitamin A, vitamin E and many other health promoting flavonoid poly phenolic antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene and α-carotene. These compounds help act as protect from harmful effects of oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.
  • Zeaxanthin, an important dietary carotenoid selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering functions in the retina of eyes.
  • Excellent source of iron, which is a rare feature among berries. Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. 
  • Good source of minerals like potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase.
  • Rich in B-complex group of vitamins and vitamin K. Contain very good amounts of vitamin B-6, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid. These vitamins are function as co-factors and help body in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.


Use them as you would raspberries or blackberries in any recipe. Blend them into a fruit smoothie, or serve with yogurt. They can be made into mousse or added to fruit flans or even into apple pies for an interesting twist. If you want to enjoy them for a longer period, make preserves!


Photo: Patrick & Hoang-Anh,  Flickr ccl
Recipe: Mulberry Jam
Cook time: 20 minutes  | Yield, about 1-1/2 cups

2 cups mulberries (2-1/2 if making seedless jam, see note below)
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes, or until the temperature reaches 220°F.

Take off the heat, remove the ginger slices and skim off any white foam that has collected. Pour into a clean, sterilized canning jar and boil for 10 minutes in a deep pot with just enough water to cover the jar.

After processing let cool on the counter until the lid pops down. Refrigerate. The jam will set up more as it cools.

Note: To make seedless jam, strain the berries through a medium mesh sieve before cooking.

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