It begins with the first deep red, sweet strawberries and continues on through months of shifting hues of red, blue, and black. I am talking about the spring and summer berry season in the South. We are blessed to have a glut of native delicious berry-bearing trees, shrubs, and vines that provide sweet and wonderful reprieve on long hot summer days. The season started with the strawberries providing a striking contrast to the emerging greens of the rest of the world of plants, but has moved onward. Now as I hike around I see blueberries nearing the age of ripening and the green blackberries emerging from shedding petals–first green, now red, and soon to be a rich, dark black. But what nature’s bounty has to offer us now is nothing to be scoffed at. Though not as prevalent as the blueberry or the blackberry, now is the time of the mulberry. We have two native species, the red mulberry and the white mulberry, both of which are–despite what that old diddy about the monkey and the weasel may lead you to believe–trees, and both of which produce an edible berry. While both colors are edible, it is the red mulberry that is held to be the more delicious of the two, and while not commonly cultivated in this country, when they are, typically red mulberries are the ones chosen.While not a common species here on the Domain, mulberries are typically found at the edges of forests, preserved in people’s yards, or around old homesites. The sweet berries are a true treat, and I would encourage everyone who has never tried a mulberry straight from the tree to hurry and seek them out; but be forewarned; while the fruit is delicious and juicy, for the next few days anyone who gives a cursory look to your hands will know what you’ve been up to.
While easily identified by the berries, mulberry trees are also distinct in that their leaves are either unlobed or with 2-3 lobes, and can be highly variable even on a single tree.
While mulberries may not be a very popular fruit in our time and region, they have much more of a celebrity status elsewhere in the world. In Armenia and neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh,
mulberry trees are a staple of most yards, and the berries are not just enjoyed as a sweet treat. Often they are boiled down to produce a syrup used as a topping for breads, desserts, and whatever else needs a kick of sweetness, or that is added to natural mineral waters to make a mulberry soda. Beyond the syrup, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh are known for the production of a mulberry vodka (tuti oghi), a dangerous drink that retains little of the innocent charm of snacking on sweet red berries.
Continuing our theme of centering Friday teas around a locally harvested bit of our flora, we in the Herbarium harvested a bowl of mulberries to share over a cup of tea or two on a rainy Friday afternoon. It was a great way to wrap up the week and start the weekend!