Botanical Name: Morus alba.
Today there are two subspecies or varieties of white mulberry that are recogized, Morus alba var. alba and Morus alba var. multicaulis.
Other Common Names: Chinese white mulberry, Indian mulberry, morera (Spanish), Weisse Maulbeere (German), mûrier blanc (French), hvitmorbær (Norwegian), vitt mullbär (Swedish), sang ye (Chinese), valkomulperi (Finnish), hvid morbær (Danish).
Habitat: White mulberry is native to the eastern and central parts of China.
It is now grown in plantations, and for ornamental reasons in gardens and parks throughout the warm temperate world, and is naturalized both in Europe and North America.
In some areas in North America, it has extensively hybridized with the native red mulberry (Morus rubra).
The tree is propagated with seeds or cuttings and requires a nutritious, moist and well-drained soil. It prefers semi-shade or full sun.
The plant tolerates strong winds and drought but does not do well in maritime exposure.
Description: White mulberry is a deciduous tree (can be evergreen in tropical regions) that belongs to the mulberry family or fig family (Moraceae).
It usually grows up to 5 or 6 meters (16 to 20 feet) in height but it has been known to reach a height up to 15 meters (49 feet).
The leaves are green, alternate, toothy and broadly egg-shaped. The small white inconspicuous flowers (catkins) appear in May. There can be separate male and female flowers on the same tree (monoecious) or male and female flowers on separate trees (dioecious).
From the female flowers, 2-2.5 cm long fruits are formed that are white first, but later turn red to dark purple.
The seeds are usually dispersed by birds that eat the fruit.
White mulberry is known for the rapid release of its pollen, which is launched at over half the speed of sound making it the fastest movement in the plant kingdom (Plantae).
Plant Parts Used: The leaves, branches, root bark and fruits of the white mulberry tree are used in herbal medicine.
The leaves are gathered in the fall and used in cooking or dried for later uses.
The branches are collected in early summer and the roots in winter. They are usually dried for later use. The fruits are collected when they are ripe.
In Chinese herbal medicine, white mulberry is used extensively, and herbal preparations made from the different parts of the tree have different names: Sang ye (leaves), Sang zhi (branches), Sang bai pi (root bark) and Sang shen (fruits).
The leaves and root bark are traditionally mixed with honey. From the fresh leaves and fruits a juice can be made, but otherwise, all parts of the tree are dried for use as powder or decoction, tinctures, and wraps.
To extend the durability of the fruits, they can be boiled before they are dried. The fruits have a rather bland flavor, unlike the more agreeable and strong flavor of the red mulberry (Morus rubra) and black mulberry (Morus nigra).
Medicinal Applications and Health Benefits of White Mulberry
Active Ingredients and Substances: The leaves contain flavonoids (rutin, moracetin, skimmin, astragalin, and others), anthocyanins (cyanidin), phytosterols (beta-sitosterol, beta-amyrin), coumarins (including umbelliferon, bergapten, artocarpin and scopoletin).
In addition, the leaves contain approx. 10% tannins and are rich in carotene and calcium and the dry leaves are very protein rich (18 – 28.8%).
The leaves also contain magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, aluminum, iron, silica, and sulfur.
The root contains stilbene glycosides (e.g. oxyresveratrol, sangennon B and D, kuwanons, mulberrosides, and mulberrofurans), tropane alkaloids such as calystegin A3, B1, B2 and C1 and polysaccharides such as rhamnose, arabinose, xylose, mannose, galactose, and glucose.
The fruits contain vitamins A, B1 (thiamin), B2 and C (ascorbic acid). They contain (per 100 g) 87.5 g water, 1.5% protein, 0.5% fat and 8% carbohydrates and 0.7% malic acid.
In addition, the fruits contain calcium, fiber, iron, riboflavin and nicotinic acid.
Medicinal Uses of White Mulberry
White mulberry is an important herb in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and records of its use date back to 659 AD.
The leaves, root, branches, and fruits are still listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia from 1985, but other parts, such as the plant juice and the ash of the tree, are also widely used.
The leaves of white mulberry have expectorant properties and can be helpful in expelling mucus caused by respiratory tract infections.
They induced perspiration and have an antibacterial, astringent, diaphoretic, hypoglycaemic, odontalgic and ophthalmic effect.
They are used traditionally to treat fever, sore throat, cough, colds, flu, eye infections, nosebleed, headache, and dizziness.
An injection of an extract of the leaves, followed by internal dose of the sap (mixed with sugar), has been shown in recent studies to be effective as a treatment for elephantiasis (a parasitic infection resulting in extreme swelling in the arms and legs) and tetanus (lockjaw), an infection characterized by muscle spasms.
The branches (stems) are regarded to have an antirheumatic, antispasmodic, diuretic, hypotensive and pectoral effect, and are often used to reduce water retention (edema) and for rheumatic pains and spasm in the upper limbs.
The bark is regarded to have anthelmintic and purgative properties and is used to expel tapeworms.
The root bark has antiasthmatic, antitussive, diuretic, expectorant, and sedative properties. It is often used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat asthma, bronchitis, edema, and diabetes.
In addition, the root bark has also been shown to lower blood pressure and a tincture of the bark is used to relieve a toothache.
The fruit is believed to have a tonic effect on kidney energy and is used as a remedy for urinary incontinence, constipation in the elderly, dizziness, tinnitus, insomnia caused by anemia, and to prevent premature graying of the hair.
Other Uses of White Mulberry
The white mulberry leaves are the preferred food for silkworm, as the thick, milky-like sap adds strength to the silk thread.
The tree is therefore grown on a large scale for this purpose, especially in southern Europe and India.
A plant fiber can be extracted from the bark of one-year-old branches, and used in weaving and papermaking.
The twigs are used for bindery and wicker making.
The wood of the white mulberry tree is hard and durable and is often used to make sports equipment such as tennis rackets, cricket bats, and baseball bats. It is also used for boat building and furniture and agricultural tool making.
A brown plant dye can be extracted from the tree trunk.
The mature fruits of white mulberry have a sweet but rather insipid taste and can be eaten raw. To enhance the flavor the fruits can be dried and used as a substitute for raisins.
The young shoots and leaves can be boiled and eaten in the same manner as many leafy vegetables but despite the high nutrition levels of the leaves they have mostly been used in the past during famine.
Because of the high protein content of the dried leaves, they can be a very helpful addition to a protein-poor diet.
The inner bark can be roasted and ground to a powder that can be used as a thickening agent in soups, porridges, and souces or mixed with regular flour and used for baking.
The young shoots can be used as a tea substitute.
Dosage and Administration
For therapeutic use for various ailments, the following daily doses are often recommended:
Root Bark: 6-12 g.
Leaves: 3-12 g.
Branches: 30-60 g.
Fruit: 9-15 g
Fruit juice: 2-4 ml.
For all commercial products containing white mulberry, the manufacturer’s instructions should be followed.
Possible Side Effects and Interactions of White Mulberry
The milky sap found in all parts of white mulberry is slightly toxic if ingested but when dried or cooked the plant is deemed safe. The sap and leaves can also cause skin irritation in some people.
Consumption of the unripe fruit should be avoided as it can cause stomach upset, hallucinations and stimulate the nervous system.
White mulberry tree pollen is very allergenic to those allergic to pollen grains and it can contribute to hayfever.
Bown, Deni: The Royal Horticultural Society New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses. London, Dorling Kindersley 2002.
Duke, James A.: Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, Florida, CRC Press 2002.
Foster, Steven and Yue Chongxi: Herbal Emissaries. Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, Healing Arts Press 1992.
Lucas, Richard: Secrets of the Chinese Herbalists. (Revised edition). Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall 1987.
Tierra, Michael & Lesley Tierra: Chinese Traditional Herbal Medicine. Vol. 2. Materia Medica and Herbal Resource. Twin Lakes, Lotus Press 1998.
Williamson, Elisabeth M.: Potter’s Herbal Cyclopaedia. Essex, Saffron Walden 2003.
Xu, Zong Lan: Pocket Handbook of Chinese Herbal Medicine. 300 Individual Herbs. Miami, Wacilon International Inc., 2000.
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