A guide to mulberry silk

Mulberry silk is derived from the mulberry tree: a fruit bearing plant found throughout Europe, Northern America, and many different areas in Asia. Mulberry trees are very resilient and can spread quite quickly. Mulberry trees can thrive in many different environments and varied kinds of soil, as well as areas with limited space. Mulberry trees can be planted up against walls; however it’s recommended that they have 5 – 10m of surrounding area to properly spread into. It’s also worth bearing in mind that mulberry trees can grow up to 30 – 50ft high depending on the species of tree. As they grow they often become crooked and twisted – a feature which is often capitalised on by landscapers and other architectural designers. It normally takes eight to nine years for a mulberry tree to reach maturity and start bearing fruit.

Mulberry berries

The Tree of Life

The Chinese Pharmacopoeia lists white mulberry leaves, root bark, branches and fruit as ingredients in medicinal preparations, but other parts, including the sap and wood ash, have also been used throughout the ages. Mulberry leaves are believed to help regulate blood sugar levels are often used to brew a refreshing herbal tea. Many cultures believe that the leaves of the mulberry tree can also help with weight loss and weight management, as well as lower cholesterol, improved skin and better digestion.

Culinary uses

The fruit of a mulberry tree is similar in appearance to a blackberry, but it is often longer and more varied in colour: they can be red, black, or white. Mulberry berries are most commonly used in culinary dishes such as pies, tarts and tea – their flavour is often described as “fireworks in the mouth”.

A legendary history

Mulberry trees appear in many legends and traditions around the world. In Japan, mulberry paper is used to make offerings at shrines and in Chinese legends the sun is represented as a three legged sun bird that resides on top of a mulberry tree. Mulberry trees also appear regularly in literature, most notably Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this tale of forbidden love, Pyramus and Thisbe are set to wed beneath a mulberry tree. When Pyramus arrives to find nothing but Thisbe’s bloodstained scarf, he stabs himself and his blood stains the white mulberries dark red. From that day forward the juice of the berries remains dark red.

A illustration of mulberry leaves

Mulberry trees and the British Royal Family

The British Royal Family has a strong historical association with the mulberry tree, with a large collection of trees being present in the royal gardens at Buckingham Palace. This mulberry garden was originally planted by King James I in 1608. No one knows whether the idea of a mulberry Garden at Buckingham palace was King James I’s or a suggestion made by William Stallenge, who had published a book at the time, entitled ‘Instructions for the planting and Increase of Mulberry Trees, Breeding of Silkworms and the Making of Silk’. Thousands of mulberry trees were imported and planted by the King throughout his reign. After many years the mulberry trees grew to a fruit bearing stage but any attempts to produce silk from the trees failed. Despite this, William Stallenge continued to maintain the mulberry garden even after the death of the King in 1625. The garden has been replanted and cared for ever since.

How is Mulberry silk made?

Our silk is made from the finest quality mulberry silk, which is produced naturally by the larvae of the Bombyx mori moth, a domesticated descendant of the wild silk moth Bombyx mandarina, which can be found across a large geographical range: from parts of India and China to even the most remote parts of Russia. This method of producing silk with domesticated moths – known as sericulture – is a Chinese tradition that‘s over 5000 years old.

An illustartion of a silk moth Sometimes known as Bombyx silk, Mulberry silk gets it’s more common name from the white mulberry (Morus alba) tree, which is the sole food source for Bombyx larvae. Mulberry trees are found in many parts of the world, however only the white mulberry tree is native to China. Once the larvae consume enough food from the mulberry tree they begin to weave their cocoons – a process which takes only several days. Once the cocooning process is complete, the cocoon is unravelled, producing the silk fibres that will be cleaned and turned into the fine fabrics used in our luxury bed linen. Pound for pound, silk is much stronger than steel, due to its flexible and stretchy nature. This makes silk suitable for a multitude of purposes in addition to luxury linen, including parachutes, medical sutures and other life saving devices.