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Mulberry leaves are generally small to medium in size, averaging 7 to 11 centimeters in diameter and 8 to 13 centimeters in length, and widely vary in appearance, depending on tree maturity. The leaves can be oval, cordate, to deeply lobed, and all three shapes may be found growing on the same tree. Mulberry leaves notoriously range in appearance from uniform to irregular. The lobed leaves are typically found on younger trees and can have anywhere from 1 to 5 curved lobes. The lobes can also appear on one side of the leaf while the other side has none. Mulberry leaves are green to dark green, textured, and matte to glossy, showcasing serrated or toothed edges and prominent veining spanning the surface. The underside of the leaf is a shade of lighter green and has a downy feel with raised veins. Mulberry leaves should be thin, pliable, crisp, and tender. Young leaves are preferred for culinary preparations and have a mild, vegetal, and subtly sweet taste. Mature leaves are reserved for drying and teas, developing an earthier, slightly bittersweet, fruity flavor.
Mulberry leaves are available in the late spring through fall. In some tropical climates, the leaves are available year-round.
Mulberry leaves, botanically a part of the Morus genus, are a specialty, nutritious green belonging to the Moraceae family. The leaves grow in an alternate arrangement on trees that can reach 9 to 24 meters in height, depending on the species, and the trees are found growing wild and in cultivation. Mulberry trees are famous for their pigmented, sweet fruits, but the leaves are a secondary crop foraged for culinary and medicinal purposes. Fresh Mulberry leaves are not a common commercial item and are often gathered by foragers or sold through select farms, favored for their mild taste and dense nutritional content. There are three main types of Mulberry trees: Black Mulberries or Morus nigra, Red Mulberries or Morus rubra, and White Mulberries, Morus alba. Leaves can be harvested from all three types, and young Mulberry leaves are primarily used for culinary recipes, incorporated raw or cooked. In Asia, leaves of the White Mulberry tree are gathered at all maturity levels for medicinal use. The leaves are known as Sang Ye in Mandarin and are traditionally dried, steeped into teas and tonics, ground into powders, or encapsulated into pills as a dietary supplement.
Mulberry leaves are a source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system and contain other antioxidants that reduce inflammation and protect the cells against free radical damage. The leaves also provide potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, calcium and phosphorus to build strong bones and teeth, iron to develop the protein hemoglobin for oxygen transport through the bloodstream, and additional nutrients, including zinc, magnesium, vitamin K, and beta-carotene. One unique nutrient, known as deoxynojirimycin, or DNJ, is an alkaloid found in the leaves believed to help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. When torn, Mulberry leaves sometimes exude a milky white latex, generally found in fresh older leaves. It is worth noting that some consumers may react to this latex, causing skin irritations and upset stomachs, but this is unusual. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Mulberry leaves are viewed as a cooling ingredient with a bitter and sweet nature. The leaves are traditionally consumed in tea and are valued as a detoxifier, clearing heat from the lungs, dispelling wind, and purifying the body.
Mulberry leaves have a mild, subtly sweet, and vegetal flavor suited for fresh or cooked preparations. Young, thin, and tender leaves are preferred to consume when using the leaves in culinary dishes. Young Mulberry leaves can be tossed into salads, incorporated into smoothies, layered into fresh spring rolls, or blended into dressings and sauces that can be spooned over greens, yogurt, and grain bowls. Mulberry leaves can also be stuffed and rolled with a mixture of meat, spices, and chopped vegetables, eaten similar to dolma. In addition to raw preparations, Mulberry leaves can be stirred into soups, simmered into congee, sautéed with aromatics, or stir-fried as a side dish. The leaves can also be cooked into tamagoyaki, a Japanese omelet, mixed into quiches, or used in frittatas. While less common, Mulberry leaves can be pickled for extended use. Beyond culinary dishes, Mulberry leaves are dried and incorporated into dietary supplements or are steeped in tea. Mulberry leaf tea has a flavor reminiscent of green tea when fresh leaves are used, being fruity and sweet, and the dried leaves will impart a slightly earthy and bitter taste. Mulberry leaves pair well with borage, chrysanthemum leaves, hibiscus, mint, ginger, garlic, loquats, and goat cheese. Whole, unwashed leaves should be stored wrapped in paper towels in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Mulberry leaves are famously known as the food of choice for silkworms. According to Chinese legend, Empress Xi Ling Shi discovered the silk fibers when sitting beneath a White Mulberry tree. The Empress was drinking tea, and a cocoon from the tree dropped into her beverage, unraveling. The threads shimmered in the sunlight as she examined them, leading the Empress to realize that many cocoons on the mulberry tree were capable of weaving into fabric. The Empress studied the silkworms and began cultivating the insects for their cocoons, creating the first production of silk. Since its discovery, silk has captured the attention and fascination of civilizations worldwide. The Silk Road was constructed to transport the unique fibers, Mulberry trees were carried by hand from Asia to Europe to compete with China’s industry monopoly, and fashion houses scrambled to transform the fabric using bold colors, textures, and designs. White Mulberry leaves provide the silkworm’s sole water and nutrient intake. The worms, officially known as the Bombyx mori silkworm, are only alive for about a month, but during this time, they will consume around 30,000 times their weight in Mulberry leaves. Thousands of White Mulberry trees have been planted worldwide to feed the ravenous appetite of silkworms for commercial silk production, and a single cocoon produces around 900 meters of a thin thread, combined with 5 to 8 other threads to create a strand of silk.
Mulberry trees are native to several regions worldwide, depending on the specific type. Red mulberry trees, also known as the American Mulberry, are native to North America and are deciduous trees primarily found along the east coast of the United States. The White mulberry tree is native to China and has been growing wild since ancient times. The species was introduced to the United States in 1733 and was planted in Georgia in hopes of expanding American silk production, but the trees failed to compete with European and Asian markets. The Black mulberry tree is native to Southwestern Asia and was spread to Europe in the early ages, where it was cultivated by the ancient Romans. Today Mulberry trees can be deciduous or evergreen, depending on their growing conditions, and are found in forests worldwide. The trees thrive in tropical to temperate regions and are mainly found in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America.
Recipes that include Mulberry Leaves. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Organic Facts||Mulberry Tree Leaf Tea Recipe|
|Simple Chinese Food||Cold Mulberry Leaves|
|Unfamiliar China||Mulberry Leaf Congee with Kudzu and Loquat|
|Simple Chinese Food||Golden and Silver Egg Mulberry Leaf Soup|
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