Botanical name: Morus alba
Common name: Mulberry, Morus fruit
Family: Moraceae, mulberry family
Part used in Chinese medicine: fruit
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Nourishes yin and blood, moistens Intestines
Photo 1: Morus alba; 07/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Morus alba; 07/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 3: Morus alba; 06/2005; author Luis Fernandez Garcia; permission under GFDL
Photo 4: Morus alba; 09/2006; author B.Navez; permission under GFDL
Morus alba, or White Mulberry is a short-lived, small to medium sized tree that can reach 30 to 50 feet in height. It is native to northern China where its cultivation for silkworm feedstock began over 4,000 years ago and is now cultivated, and naturalized, around the world in warm temperate regions. It is quite vigorous and fast growing, often seen in abandoned areas and roadsides. Recently it has been listed as an invasive plant in parts of North America as it tends to hybridize with the native Red Mulberry and threatens it long-term genetic viability.
The White Mulberry is scientifically notable for its rapid pollen release movement. The flowers fire pollen into the air by rapidly releasing stored elastic energy in the stamens, with the resulting movement occurring at more than of half the speed of sound. It has the distinguished characteristic of making the fastest known movement in the plant kingdom.
In Chinese medicine, various parts of the White Mulberry are used. The leaves (Sang Ye), root bark (Sang Bai Pi), twigs (Sang Zhi), and dried fruit (Sang Shen) are all used medicinally.
Growing and Propagation
The tree grows in almost any soil and is somewhat drought tolerant, though prefers warm, well drained, loamy soil in an environment with full sun. Mulberry roots are known for being brittle and require care when planting. On young trees, the leaves are quite large, up to one foot long, while on older trees they are only 2-6 inches long. The tree is usually deciduous in winter, but those grown in tropical regions can be evergreen. Pruning should be done sparingly and ideally only on dead wood, and only performed in the winter when the plant is fully dormant as mulberries bleed badly when cut.
Propagation is by seed or cuttings. Seed is best sown as soon as ripe if possible, otherwise in February in a cold frame. It will usually germinate in the first spring, though it sometimes takes another 12 months. When seedlings are large enough to handle they can be planted in pots and grown in a cold frame for their first winter, and planted in the ground in late spring or early summer after the last frost. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, can be taken in July-August, grown in a frame and planted out in the spring.
Harvesting and Preparation
The color of mulberries can vary from white, to light pink to reddish-purple or black. The red to dark purplish black ones are best for medicinal use. They are harvested in May or June when they are nearly ripe, then dried in the sun or baked dry. Good quality Sang Shen consist of large, whole, purplish-red, sweet fruit.