Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Godly Hermit Tree - Mulberry

Jack fruit tree and Mulberry tree belong to the same plant family

 


Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
- Nursery Rhyme

In earlier posts it was mentioned that the almond tree is a heavenly tree and the Drumstick tree is one that is beautiful and easy to grow. However, whereas the first is a delicate tree requiring much care to grow, the second is a fragile tree that does not grow well in colder parts of the earth. The mulberry tree on the other hand grows widely on our planet in most climatic conditions where humans live. It grows easily in wild areas and it is a source of food besides much more. If a tree is to be regarded as a godly hermit tree on our planet than this tree is a strong contender for the title. Mulberry trees can be planted easily from seed or cutting and with its deep green foliage, it is a beautiful tree that offers much shade in summers. This tree and others of its family are an excellent source of food and good health not just for silk worms but also for birds, cattle and humans. Its delicate fruit does not  store well but must be picked and eaten right away by a passing hermit.

Morus alba, known as white mulberry, is a short-lived, fast-growing, small to medium sized mulberry tree, which grows to 10–20 m tall. The species appears to be native to northern China but is widely cultivated and naturalized elsewhere since ancient times. It is known as Tuta in Sanskrit and Shatut in Hindi (The royal fruit). White mulberry is widely cultivated to feed silkworms employed in commercial production of silk. It is also notable for rapid release of its pollen, which is launched at over half the speed of sound as a gift from mother earth to the planet so that its off springs may be well fed.. Humans on the other hand have been busy destroying the goodness of the planet and each other and therefore it is not surprising that many are malnourished. White mulberry leaves are the preferred feedstock for silkworms, and are also cut for food for livestock (cattle, goats, etc.) in areas where dry seasons restrict the availability of ground vegetation. The fruit are also dried or made into wine.

Besides fruit, the leaves of this tree are edible but as yet have not been exploited for this purpose much except in Israel, Turkey and Syria. Whenever considering any tree leaf as food, it is best to go for the new tender leaves while leaving the older ones for the tree's own needs. Dried leaves of the tree, especially white mulberry, make an excellent tea. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of the Difficulties, a book devoted to Chinese Medical Practice is a bible for herbal medicine. It records the plant’s first use. It refers to the dry Mulberry leaf tea, “Sang ye cha” or godly hermits’ tea, as a miracle remedy - an immortality medicine. It was used as a cure for coughs, nutritional fortification and paralysis etc. The Chinese character for Mulberry Tree “tree for the silk worm” is identical in Japanese.

Mulberry leaves have long been used in Chinese medicine for the prevention and treatment of diabetes. They contain compounds that suppress high blood sugar levels. Scientists in Japan have pinpointed a number of biologically active compounds in extracts of the leaves of the white mulberry. The extract appears to be effective in suppressing  progression of arteriosclerosis and buildup of cholesterol-rich plaque in our arteries. It appears that the leaves contain six times more calcium than green tea, 25 times more than milk and 40 times more than cabbage. It seems that it contains 2.5 times more iron than than green tea and 10 times more than spinach. One may mix some standard tea leaves with mulberry leaves to improve taste and benefits. Because of the high source of mineral content Mulberry leaves are a candidate to become a super food material pending further studies.

Some trees of the family moraceae to which the mulberry tree belongs such as the Jack fruit and breadfruit trees grow only in the tropics and are a much desired food source. The mulberry tree on the other hand grows well in areas with either severe summers and/or severe winters.

Breadfruit is native to Polynesia where it is baked, boiled or fried as a potato-like vegetable. It is made into bread, pie and puddings.  Jack fruit trees bear massive fruits. This tree is grown throughout the tropics as well as cooler regions for its delicious, pulpy, edible fruit. The fruits may reach nearly three feet in length and weigh up to 34 kg, thus making them the largest of tree-bearing fruits on earth. The tree bears abundant fruit in summers. It is worth planting on any farm or large home garden in places where the winter or summer is not too severe. Even a small tropical farm of few acres that has a couple of Jack fruit trees, a couple of drumstick trees, a couple of mulberry trees, two cows and a field to grow more fruits, a vegetable patch for onions, spinach and potatoes etc. can meet the nutritional requirements of an average sized family. It is best to leave food grains like wheat for large mechanized farms who can do it more cheaply. A couple of cassia trees will provide all the fuel needed for the family and another couple each of mango (apple in cold areas) and lime or lemon will improve variety and nutrition. Trees planted near the boundary of farm lands do not take up much space but add  beauty and security to the land. Just care is needed to avoid the south side to prevent winter shading of land if the land holding is a small one.  North is the best if a neighbor does not have a farm on that side, otherwise a  western boundary is a good choice for the largest of trees such as cassia and east for the smaller ones. With four to six cows there would also be enough surplus income to meet the clothing and educational needs of the family as well. The cow droppings and leaf collections will be enough to organically fertilize the farm,  provided they are given enough time to decompose fully (a minimum of a year). The more adventurous may try adding a fish pond and free range hens for their delicious eggs. A pond could be created on that sided shaded by mulberry trees to minimize evaporation loss and whatever falls into the pond shall feed the fish.

In my hometown, the mulberry tree comes up easily on its own on any moist ground. A beautiful one grows near the front gate presently. Two others became too large for my small urban garden and unfortunately had to be removed in the past. I made good use of the wood and planted more trees to replace them. The wood of the tree is excellent for furniture and I have used it for some tables and beds in my home. The wood is strong with a beautiful grain and color that takes a fine finish when dry. If you have been thinking of planting a tree in your neighborhood or a wild clearing nearby then consider this tree as an easy and useful one to plant. It will add joy to the life of birds, bees, insects and humans. At the present stage in the history of our planet marked by depleting forests, expanding urban spaces and adverse climate changes every tree helps. The mulberry tree is  not considered appropriate for urban streets since the fruit stains pavements. It is more a tree for gardens, forests and farms i.e a hermit tree.However, if the street sides are unpaved, then it may be planted by the side of urban streets too.

“A man, who will finish his luncheon with black mulberries will pass his summers in health.” — Horace, Satires, 35 B.C.

Top of a Mulberry Tree


The beautiful Jackfruit tree photo is an image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jackfruits.JPG 
and the Mulberry top from http://publicdomainpictures.net

UPDATE: August 7, 2013: A forest of white mulberry,  moringa trees (http://someitemshave.blogspot.in/2013/08/tree-of-life-moringa-or-drumstick.html) along with other food producing trees  e.g food palms, banana, apples, mangos, breadfruit, jackfruit, chestnuts, almonds, walnuts etc. the selection depending onng on climate and locale virtually produces a bio-diverse food forest to provide food for any small human community surrounded by such a forest -  even more so if there is an  an undergrowth of herbs and wild lettuce, dandeloin, goosefoot and mushooms etc. with streams and ponds seeded with fish and to provide moisture for the forest to become lush green). The same growth on a small scale is also suitable to meet the needs of a family with a small farm especially along with a few free range cows.

UPDATE: April 20, 2014: Read about the significant role of trees in climate change as per the latest information here http://someitemshave.blogspot.in/2014/04/a-new-perspective-on-climate-change.html

14 comments:

ashok said...

Seeing the lack of comments to this post perhaps the readers have little interest in the poor old hermit tree ;-)

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

I love trees, and I read this post twice, but I have nothing interesting to add. Nakamura Hajime, the author of the book I've been reading wrote that in India, there are not many trees although the soil is fertile. Even the surrounding areas of the Buddha campus (I don't know what to call that place) were pretty much bare, and Buddha's wealthy student bought the area on higher ground with trees. But trees grew only on the campus. That's amazing. That's about 2500 years ago. That means it was always that way.

Only the last chapter remaining, I almost finish "Ancient India." The book is much easier and enjoyable than when I read Will Durant's book, "Our Oriental Heritage," 20 years ago. Nakamura Hajime was scholar in Indian Philosophy and Buddhism. This is the first time that I read how Buddhism faded out from India and spread over to most Asian countries. Very interesting.

ashok said...

Keiko, even after much deforestation there are large areas of India thickly populated with tree but there are areas without many trees also. Nakamura is probably writing about an area without many trees.

the central provice of Madhya pradesh, eastern province of Orissa, the western coast from Bomabay to kerala and the entire northern strip of Himalayas and adjoining plains are full of forests and trees.The Northern Himalayan provinces are 80% forests.

I presently live in Rajasthan province that is mostly without trees except for two forest tiger reserves of Ranthambore and Sariska and a few scattered areas.

The soil is fertile though and with water one can grow lots of trees as I have done around my home. We have very dry hot summers in my province and unless a tree is watered in summer, especially when it is young it does not prosper. However in the monsoon that follows, as it is now everything becomes green and the countryside and hills become lush green for about four months.

ashok said...

Yes just to add the provinces east of Bengal (Assam etc.) are also thickly forested with elephant forests. Bengal is green but because of its thick population it is mostly farms and cities now.

All this can be seen in Google maps.

ashok said...

Yes just to add another note the Jackfruit tree photo with this post is from the southern Kerala province that is full of trees too because of plentiful rains.

However there are several provinces in India that have few trees because of dry hot summers even though the soil is fertile and because the original forests have been removed by grazing/ farming etc. They can be restored though with human intervention and there is a Japanese-Indian project that has restored one such area called Aravali Hills south of Delhi. The reforested areas need care (especially summer watering) in the first two years but after that they carry on without intervention.

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

Please excuse Japanese for our simplistic language. Of course, Nakamura Hajime knew that trees grew more in some parts of India and definitely in forests and Himalaya. But he was born in 1912 in Shimane prefecture. Shimane is far from big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Yokohama. He must have grown up surrounded by trees and the beautiful sand dune of the coast. So, he was probably disappointed in the natural environment around Tokyo University where he studied and taught for many years. But when I see my mother's photos, I always see more greenery than today. She grew up in central Tokyo. Even when I was growing up in Yokohama, we lived among greenery in the middle of the city. So, from such green experience all our lives, most Japanese react to bare spots and say, "No tree!"

When I went to California State University, Los Angeles in 70s, I couldn’t imagine myself living in Los Angeles area because of all the concrete and asphalt around although my apartment complex had greenery. When I went to Orange County and saw many bold head hills, I thought how in the world people could live in such barren place. But over the years, houses were built and trees were planted and also I became used to the environment. The weather is nice here. The beginning of this year, I stopped my sprinkler system for my US home, so my trees are bearing only tiny fruits, so I cannot make jams. Water is more precious here. In Japan, we don't need sprinkler systems.

I was surprised to hear only 80% is forest in Himalaya. But I happened to peek a few minutes of a documentary program this morning on Tibet and men are climbing on a rock mountain with absolutely no tree or even grass.

About India-Japan project on planting trees, I'm sure the purpose is to fight global warming and other benefits. But behind such projects, I can't help but notice our insecurity tendency when we see bare spots. I talked about this in your past post, but current Japanese population suffers a great deal from allergy from planting too many cedars. Maybe, mulberry trees are better?!

ashok said...

Keiko, just like you my early years were spent in Nainital and other places that are full of trees and I too feel sad when I see areas without trees. It is a big tragedy of our modern age that with expanding population, expanding cities and then expanding farms we are ending up with less and less of trees. Humans of the last century would be regarded as the most technologically advancing in all of human history but also as the most destructive to our planet and its natural resources.

With human effort though much can be done to reduce the damage.

Yes pollen allergy as an issue with many and some people are forced to select areas to live where can they tolerate the pollen.

The mulberry is a nice option for warmer countries but colder countries have other nice options too - for example the Oak tree and its family that includes the chestnut. I was considering a post on that. A lot of it grows in Nainital.

The Himalayas are bare of trees above a certain height called the tree line and tibet falls in that region, therefore it lacks trees.

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

“With human effort though much can be done to reduce the damage.”
Definitely agreed.

“Mulberry trees are for warmer climate.”
You mean mild climate, right? Not warm climate. My grandmother grew up in Gunma prefecture which is the north of Tokyo, and the place used to be well known for producing silk. In winter, I think it gets pretty cold there although not as cold as the northeast. So, when you wrote warmer, were you comparing with the temperature in Himalaya? Himalaya must be cold in winter.

I like chestnuts. Mont Blanc is my favorite cake which is made out of sweetened chestnuts.

About the bare spots over the certain height, I just checked Mt. Fuji. As far as I’ve seen some photos and a video, they look barren, not as beautiful as I have imagined. In fact, they look quite ugly. I think it’s better to look at gorgeous mountains from far away. About the rock mountain in Tibet, it looked beautiful in unusual way.

ashok said...

Tibet has some beautiful lakes. many are fresh water lakes but some are salty. Because they are on a height higher than the poulated districts on the Indian side, it is believed that seepage from these lakes produces beautiful springs, lakes and green valleys.

I think mulberry grows well in areas with both warm and cold climates.

The Himalayas are beautiful upto a point even beyond the tree line because that area has wonderful wild flowers, grasses and herbs. I have been for hikes upto heights of fifteen thousand feet. It seems beyond that even the grass disappears but I have not visited that height. For sure bare barren rock is ugly but mountain areas where just grass etc. grows are beautiful. There is a famous valley of flowers in the Himalayas full of exotic flowers where trees do not grow but the valley is just gorgeous. I made a trek to it alone in 1981. It was two day walk from the nearest road.

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

The words like Himalaya and Tibet are themselves very inviting. I'm envious of the long trek you took. I cannot possibly have all the experiences, so I love to hear from you. By the way, there is no scare of tigers or wild elephants or other animals or bandits?

ashok said...

There is a scare in the jungles below the himalayas but as one begins to get on higher ground above three thousand feet there is little scare of tigers, elephants or bandits. It is good to be in a group though if possible. My trek to the valley of flowers was undertaken alone though and there was not a soul in sight.

I would have to wait for another lifetime for more treks though because now I find that I start run out of breath on climbs and the legs become a bit shaky on descents. Perhaps, I have spent far too much time in the plains.

Tim Jet said...

In North America, the white mulberry, morus alba, (native to China) is one of very few trees that produces berries that are desirable for human consumption. Online Plant Nursery

ashok said...

Tim the new leaves of the white mulberry, dried in shade would make a great tea and health supplement.

ashok said...

This post has become the most read post of this blog. Therefore I edited it slightly today, trying to improve the formatting etc. and removing some of the typos that I usually leave in for that informal touch :)