Just about everyone, it seems, loves mulberry trees.

Birds, poets, writers, healers, drinkers, weavers, cooks, insects–the list goes on and on–all have an affection for this terrific tree.

The mulberry tree has gotten accolades as the “tree of life” and “herb of immortality.” It is considered by some to be the oldest plant used by humans. Roman poet Virgil called it “L’arbre D’or,” or tree of gold, because of its usefulness for food, medicine and toolmaking. It also features prominently in mythology and spirituality.

A biblical reference to the sycamore tree may have been a misidentification, since some scholars believe that the tree in question was, yes, the mulberry. Ancient Greeks dedicated the plant to Athena and Romans honored Minerva with it. 

Mulberry is also wrapped up in the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, two lovers who, like Romeo and Juliet, shared a forbidden love that ended in tragedy. Ovid shared their story in his Metamorphoses, though others have also employed the tale throughout history. The couple met regularly under a mulberry tree to hide their romance from their disapproving parents and ultimately both died thinking the other had perished. Their blood turned the white berries of the tree a deep and dark reddish-purple.

Symbolism from this and other stories is associated with the tree. Growth is represented, as this tree can grow fast and large, reaching upwards of 50 feet. Death is symbolized by the deep blood-colored berries and stories of star-crossed lovers’ demise. Patience is also a characteristic since the tree’s buds won’t come out until after the frost is done. Quickly, the buds emerge, seemingly overnight, leading to an association with expediency and wisdom.

Besides the history and lore, mulberries make for great eating. Bird-lovers are known to plant mulberry to attract birds that favor their fruit. More than 50 bird species–orioles, tanagers, catbirds, cardinals, bluebirds and warblers, to name a few–enthusiastically partake of this tree’s fruit. And don’t forget the mammals; squirrels, skunks, and raccoons will eagerly snack. 

An interesting eater not of the berries, but of the mulberry’s leaves, is the domestic silkworm. Sericulture, the practice of breeding silkworms for silk production, led to the importation of the worms and “silk mania” in the U.S., for folks looking to cash in on the European silk-making craze in the 18th and 19th centuries. These entrepreneurs planted lots of mulberry trees for their silk producers.

Domestically, Connecticut was the leading producer of silkworm fiber in the 1830s and 1840s, although people all around the country tried this silk scheme. Ultimately, efforts failed and what remains are the cultivated, wild and feral mulberry trees planted to support the silkworm’s voracious appetite.

This is fine for those of us who want to harvest the fruits of their labors! Find a tree and be amazed at the masses of berries produced in early summer. The berries can be white, pink, red or purple and have the habit of ripening and subsequently falling off the tree en masse. One tree can produce 10 bushels of fruit per season!  

This bounty can be used for making jam or wine, in baked goods or eating by the purple-stained handful. Beware of that deep, dark coloring as the berries are used in dyes and can stain more than your fingers if you tramp into the house wearing your harvesting shoes. Berry and bird droppings can also stain your car and furniture.

Eat to your heart’s delight, since the tree is known for its remedial and health-producing legacy. High in protein and antioxidants, some studies suggest that consumption can control the LDL bad cholesterol and fight some cancers. The Ancients weren’t very far off when they worshipped it.

And, to follow a child’s nursery rhyme, the kids clearly had cause for celebration when they sang and danced, “here we go round the mulberry bush.”

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.