Foraging for Wild Mulberries
The Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) grows wild over the eastern and central United States, providing food for animals and people alike. The fruits resemble a raspberry or blackberry. Leaves have a toothed edge and may, or may not, be lobed. Although the wood isn’t commercially sought after, it can be used for fencing and furniture making. These versatile trees do very well in the understory and at the edge of woodlands, in clear cut areas, and along lot lines and fences. Birds love the sweet berries and disperse the seeds over wide areas. Watch for bird activity in trees as a sign that the berries are ripening.
Plant Your Own
Many people think of mulberries as weed trees and wage battle against the seedlings. However, they certainly deserve a place in your permiculture garden. The mulberry tree grows quickly, producing fruit at a fairly young age. Young seedlings can be transplanted to your survival retreat for future harvests.
Not only will these fast growing trees provide food for you, your livestock will love them too. Chickens, turkeys, and pigs all enjoy the fruit immensely and will fatten up on the extra sugar. Wildlife will also search out the berries, providing an opportunity for harvesting wild meat. You may have to fight them off for a chance at the berries for your own consumption.
Harvesting Sweet Sunshine
Mulberries ripen over several weeks, starting in mid to late June in the northern states, where I live. Pick the fruit by hand or spread old sheets and tarps under the trees and shake the branches to harvest larger quantities. Each berry will have a small green stem that can be pinched off or, if you’re lazy like me, just leave them on. Mulberries are delicious for fresh eating and make excellent pies, wine, and preserves. The flavor is distinctly its own, with an earthy sweetness.
Collect berries often and use immediately for the highest nutritional value. They provide a good source of Vitamin C, iron, and phyto-nutrients to boost your immune system* as well as carbohydrates to fuel your body. I like to eat them freshly picked right out of my hand, but when a large harvest is available, you can preserve them by canning mulberry jam, making wine, or dehydrating.
Preserve The Harvest
- 3 quarts mulberries
- 4 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 box no-sugar-needed pectin
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 Tbs butter
Wash berries, drain and crush. Measure 5 ½ cups of crushed berries, place in a medium to large sauce pan and add lemon juice. Turn heat to high and add butter (optional) to reduce foaming. Stir pectin into ½ cup of the sugar and add to berry mixture. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add remaining sugar and return to a boil. When mixture reaches a full rolling boil, stir and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
To preserve jam, ladle into hot, sterilized ½ pint jars. Leave ½ inch headspace. Wipe rims, top with canning lids and screw tops. Place in a hot water bath canner of boiling water, with water covering jars, and process for 10 minutes. Remove from water bath and place upright on towel to cool and seal.
I have also read that mulberry jam can be made without the box of pectin. If you are surviving in a bug out location and have the necessary equipment to make jam, you can still make mulberry jam. Use 1 cup of berries to 1 cup of sugar (or replace sugar with 2/3 cup honey per cup of berries) and 1 Tbs of lemon juice. Cook until berries thicken, then process in the hot water bath canner.
Sort the berries and check for insects, stems, and moldy fruit. Layer the fruit on a screen and place in full sun. Protect your mulberries from birds by covering with a window that allows the sunlight through, but keeps the fruit clean and safe. Allow to dry completely so that berries will not mold in storage. Store dried berries in an airtight container until ready to use. Check for signs of mold or moisture before using.
Use dried fruit to make pemmican or rehydrate and use in muffins and breads. A yummy sauce can be made by cooking dried berries with enough water to cover bottom of pan, sugar to taste, and 1 or 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat to medium, cooking and stirring until sauce is thick and bubbly. This tastes great over pancakes or biscuits for a calorie rich, belly warming breakfast.
Mulberries may be canned in a hot water bath canner with just a little sweetener. Wash berries and sort. Fill pint or quart jars with berries, leaving 2” head space. Add sweetener to taste (you can use honey, maple syrup, or beet sugar in place of cane sugar) and fill jars with boiling water, leaving 1/2″ head space. Wipe rims, screw lids on, and place in a hot water bath canner of boiling water. Process for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts
Free Fruit for the Taking
Most people just walk by a mulberry tree and see a nuisance. They think about the purple bird crap on their car and the stains on their driveway from falling fruit. Now you know that the mulberry tree is a valuable source of foraged food that can be put to good use right away. Learn to identify this sweet berry and keep watch for the ripening fruit in late spring and early summer. You can put up jars of jam and berries in syrup, bottles of wine, or dried berries that will light up the grey days of winter. Even better, you have one more source of food at your disposal when food shortages are causing panic and the unprepared are starving.