Monkeys Chasing Weasels
Growing up, I didn't go mulberry-picking. Why? They didn't tend to grow in the chilly part of Wisconsin I was raised in. However, upon settling in the Madison area and putting down roots here, I was introduced to these fun trees. I know the popular child's nursery rhyme involves a mulberry bush, but at 30-50 feet tall, those things are trees! Fortunately, there are rarely branches that don't bend enough to offer up their sweet bounty to those who know what to look for:
If you live in an area that has sidewalks, the first sign that it's mulberry season might be the telltale purple stains left on them from either trees overhead or birds that have enjoyed the purple fruit and left evidence of that on the sidewalk! Then it's time for us to grab our buckets and gently pick as many of the purple berries as we can manage to use in salads, ice cream, sauces, pies, or just as fresh fruit we pop into our mouths. If you have a space beneath the tree, you can also gently shake a branch and pick up the fallen fruit before it gets too dirty or crushed. Remember that the fruit tends to be very fragile and the juice will stain your hands and anything else it comes into contact with a bright, beautiful purple. And, it should be said that you should never pick any wild berries without being certain you know what you are picking. If in doubt, bring a seasoned mulberry picker with you on your first outing.
In addition to being delicious fruit that literally just grows on trees, mulberries are really packed with nutritional goodness:
- Delicious, fleshy, succulent mulberries are low in calories (just 43 calories per 100 g). They contain health promoting phyto-nutrient compounds like polyphenol pigment antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health.
- Mulberries have significantly high amounts of phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals called anthocyanins. Scientific studies have shown that consumption of berries have potential health effects against cancer, aging and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections.
- The berries contain resveratrol, another polyphenol flavonoid antioxidant. Resveratrol protects against stroke risk by altering molecular mechanisms in the blood vessels; reducing their susceptibility to damage through decreased activity of angiotensin (a systemic hormone causing blood vessel constriction that would elevate blood pressure) and increased production of the vasodilator hormone, nitric oxide.
- In addition, these berries are an excellent source of vitamin-C (36.4 mg per 100, about 61% of RDI), which is also a powerful natural antioxidant. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents, counter inflammation and scavenge harmful free radicals.
- Further, the berries also contain small amounts of vitamin A, vitamin E and in addition to the above-mentioned antioxidants. Consumption of mulberry provides another group of health promoting flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants such as lutein, zea-xanthin, ß-carotene and α-carotene in small but notably significant amounts. Altogether, 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 processes.
- Zea-xanthin, an important dietary carotenoid selectively concentrates into the retinal macula lutea, where it thought to provide antioxidant functions and protects the retina from the harmful ultraviolet rays through light-filtering actions.
- Mulberries are an excellent source of iron, which is a rare feature among berries, contain 1.85 mg/100 g of fruits (about 23% of RDI). Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
- They also good source of minerals like potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Potassium is 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.
- They are 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.
One item that has raised concerns about mulberries is the stem. Each berry sports a small, green stem at its center. Removing the stem is quite difficult and I've never been able to do so without looking like a purple Smurf in the process! That said, the stem is entirely edible and its presence is merely a cosmetic concern. I highly recommend just embracing it and leaving them there. That said, if you really must remove them, the best procedure I've come up with involves using a toenail clipper (please, use one that's just for food!) to carefully clip the stem as close to the fruit as possible. Bingo! You're ready to use them all over. The stand in perfectly in any recipe that calls for blackberries, by the way. Enjoy and happy foraging!