Saturday, July 30, 2011

Trees of Wisdom - Pine

This blog is not just about trees but since I have written about some tree families, the descriptions would be incomplete without a mention of the Pine tree family (Pinaceae) and its close relatives cedars, firs and spruces, before I move on to other topics. These are amongst the oldest of trees on earth, long lasting companions of mother Earth. The oldest tree on earth is perhaps a spruce in Sweden that is about ten thousand years old. These are trees that bear cones instead of fruits and flowers and have needles instead of leaves.

To my mind a mountain valley landscape is incomplete without this tree. Nothing adds more grace, beauty, joy and wisdom to the surroundings. The usefulness of this tree for its wood and turpentine are well known. Its nuts are a delicious food source. Young new pine needles added to tea add vitamins C and A to the drink.

If a pine tree is cut down for commercial use please ensure that at least two more are planted to replace it. Not all trees survive into adulthood. If a tree is procured for Christmas then make sure it is dried later and the wood used as firewood. If that cannot be done then it is better to buy or prepare a live potted Christmas tree that can be planted out in the forest in spring.

When considering trees to plant on mountain slopes in order to prevent land slides and soil erosion the pine is not the best but other trees like Oak do a far better job of it . On such slopes the pine may be mixed in with other leafy trees to add bio diversity. The use of pine forests must also be restricted in areas prone to dry summers and forest fires. While trees of warm areas keep them cool by spreading out and broad leaves that block the sun's rays from reaching ground, pines grow in colder areas and warm the earth through their needle like leaves and narrow shape.

A tree while it lives and after it is cut down spends its life in service of all other life by providing oxygen, food, shelter, beauty, peace and energy. In return for that it accepts humbly and gratefully whatever nature and other life grants. All trees especially long lived ones like pines illustrate the beauty, peace and joy that service to other life brings as opposed to merely selfish activity that some life may perhaps indulge in and some pseudo-philosophers like Ayn Rand attempt to justify. Such philosophers make pathetic and futile attempts to over come the inner voice and guilt as well as depression that inevitably follows selfishness as opposed to happiness produced through selfless activity. If other parts of nature such as trees followed the same selfish philosophy such humans would not survive for an instant.

This photo is a public domain image from

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tree of the Gods – Oak

The oak tree belongs to a family of trees that include the beeches, Chestnuts and oak. This family of trees has been regarded as the tree of the gods in areas where it grows naturally and this family of trees caters to many human needs such as spiritual strength, shelter, food, energy and clothing.

The Oaks are trees with a strong wood excellent for building homes and furniture, the chestnuts are a food source that have been used as a delicious and healthy replacement for wheat and rice whereas the beech yields firewood and a rayon that may be used as a replacement for cotton, silk or wool. New young leaves of oak can be consumed as salad or cooked as a green and the older leaves may be soaked to flavor beer and beverages. The acorns may be processed as food or into a coffee like drink.

The Oak family (known as the botanical family Fagaceae of trees) is a truly beautiful and majestic family of trees that caters to many human needs and delights the soul. Generations of humans have sat under the mighty Oak for strength and spiritual renewal. The tree helps one arrive at a new understanding of the self and its relationship with the universe. The tree grows in the cooler parts of our planet but does not grow near the equatorial regions where persons seeking spiritual understanding use the mighty fig and banyan trees for meditating under instead.

Oak forests usually occur in regions that are just slightly warmer than regions containing pine forests. Some regions such as the Nainital district of Himalayas has forests of mixed oak and pine. In recent centuries human greed combined with carelessness has resulted in the disappearance of many oak forests from Europe, America and Asia.

Whereas there has been a cry for the disappearing rain forests, that cry sounds hypocritical and hollow when a similar cry is missing for the disappearing pine and oak forests. it is just as improper as the cry of high per capita energy consuming countries for increasing carbon emissions voiced in low per capita energy consuming countries like China and India. Restoring our forests (all forests not just rain forests) will help restore both carbon balance and human dignity.

Photo is a public domain image from

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 
and the Mulberry top from

UPDATE: August 7, 2013: A forest of white mulberry,  moringa trees ( 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