Learning to identify a plant is good. Learning to identify an edible plant is better. Learning to identify an edible plant that's been under my nose for years is downright awesome (and sure, a little embarrassing). It reminds me that discovery doesn't need to be done in far off lands; you need only pay attention to your daily surroundings.
So, here's a question: how far do I have to go to find a tree bearing edible fruit? That is, a tree I can casually walk up to and pick a handful of fruit from and toss it in my mouth? 5 Miles? 1 Mile? 1,000 yards? Try like 3 feet.
For years now I've been cleaning up the remarkably stain inducing berries of the tree right behind our deck. As I started paying more attention to the trees around my neighborhood, it occurred to me that these berries I was sweeping up may actually be edible. And sure enough, they are. The tree that's accessible just a few feet from the steps of my deck is indeed a Mulberry Tree, who's fruit is quite edible. For a while now I've had a hunch that this was the case, but I wanted to wait until I could inspect the berries to confirm my suspicion:
This morning, I went out and picked a handful and dropped them into my oatmeal:
All this is very exciting, though there are a few catches. First, when Walter Reeves reports that "The fruit is edible but not exactly dessert quality", he's being generous. After sampling my handful of berries, I'd say the fruit is somewhere between bland and blah. Also, the berries stain everything, a fact I've known for years.
But, Mulberries do apparently have some upsides. First, they can be used as a basic replacement for blackberries. So, they work for pies, jams and as additives for pancakes, oatmeal, and pretty much any place else fruit goes. The leaves can be made into tea, which I'm almost certainly going to have to try. You can also make ink from the berries, which puts their staining effect to good use. According to the Internet, mulberries are packed with important health benefits. I'm not sure I'm sold on all this, but it did make me feel better adding them to my oatmeal this morning. The placebo effect is still an effect, right?
But most importantly, I made yet another discovery. Hurray!