‘Ille salubris aestates peraget, qui nigris prandia moris finiet.’ so says Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known to us non-grammar school oiks, as Horace in his 35 BCE piece called Satires. It roughly translates (so I’m told) as ‘A man will pass his summers in health, who will finish his luncheon with black mulberries.’ Those Romans knew a thing or two about mulberries, I can tell you!
J and I scatter dried mulberries over our morning muesli, we love the chewy texture. This time of year we are able to gather the ripe berries of Morus nigra, the Black Mulberry, from the young tree right by our gate and add them to the dish. Not only are they finger-stainingly good they are delicious!
Move on to around 1649 and a chap by the name of Nicholas Culpeper produced his The Complete Herbal. Based on a combination of local lore, science and astrology and published in plain English the book has remained in use ever since.
Here, according to my copy of Culpeper’s, are the medicinal virtues of mulberry: The ripe berries open the body. Unripe and dried they stay the fluxes, laxes and women’s courses. The bark of the root kills broad (tape) worms in the belly. The juice from the berries made into a syrup helps inflammations and sores of the mouth and throat. A decoction of the bark and leaves is good to wash the teeth when they ache. The leaves, bound in place, stay bleeding of the mouth or nose or the bleeding piles. Quite how one would bind stuff in place in the case of piles is not explained!
In modern times the bark is still used as a laxative and intestinal de-wormer and a syrup of fruit helps overcome fever. They are rich in ‘grape sugar’ which is easily assimilated and provides energy. The leaves contain compounds that help suppress high blood sugar and have long been used in the treatment of diabetes. Compounds in the leaves of Morus alba White Mulberry have proved to be effective in suppressing the progression of atherosclerosis, the buildup of cholesterol-rich plaque in our arteries. It does this by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, the so-called bad cholesterol), which is a major factor in the development of atherosclerotic plaque.
Chances are, like me, the only thing you knew about mulberries before today was the nursery rhyme from Mother Goose. But why go around a mulberry bush? Wouldn’t a myrtle be as good, or a honeysuckle? Not according to the ancient Celts, who believed that dancing around a mulberry bush at the time of the summer solstice would help protect them from fairies. (Not all fairies are nice, most are malicious, and they reach the height of their magic powers at the solstice.) History does not record how successful this strategy was for the Celts and the fact that there aren’t too many of them around begs the question!
Who would have thought it? No wonder Silkworms are so healthy and full of life! Old Horace, the Celts and Nick Culpeper knew a good thing when they found it. The crazy thing is that, around here at this time of year, mulberries are to be had in bucket loads for free and nearly all the townies we see enjoying ‘the nature’ turn their noses up at the thought of eating them and getting ‘dirty’ fingers.
As for the ‘Cereal Killer’ on the title – well, I put mulberries on my cereal and they kill off any intestinal worms that may be lurking – I know it’s a bit ‘loose’ but then they cure that as well!
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü