Shahtoot mulberries are the fruit of the Himalayan or Pakistan mulberry tree; Morusserrata or Morus macroura. They are found at an altitude of between 1200 and 1700 feet in the Himalayan region. They differ from other mulberries because of their size, as they are elongated and can be five or even six inches long. They look like fat caterpillars at first glance. The name Shahtoot comes from the Farsi, meaning King of the Mulberries (toot being the name for mulberry in Farsi and Urdu). One Indian journalist, Dinesh Dhuman, has praised the Pakistani Shahtoot, writing that the mulberry has been “perfected in Pakistan.”
The shahtoot mulberry is sweeter tasting and longer than other mulberries. It can be red, black or white, has many health benefits and is making a comeback.
Health Benefits of Shahtoot Mulberries
All mulberries contain resveratol which is believed to prevent cancer. It may also protect the cardiovascular system and can alleviate chronic inflammation and postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. It is also considered to be an antiviral.
In traditional medicine the Shahtoot has been used to treat various diseases including asthma, bronchitis, diarrhea, hypertension, insomnia and melancholy. They are considered “happy” fruits in the Punjab province of Pakistan. As they contain niacin and riboflavin, perhaps this is not surprising.
They also contain high levels of potassium which is an energy booster, repairs cell damage, and stimulates the immune system. So the fruit is packed with substances which help our overall health.
The young leaves are used as a boiled vegetable and used in tisanes and these also contain potassium, phosphorous and calcium. These act as a diuretic and help flush toxins out of the body. They can be blended with green tea for a more palatable taste.
The Tree is a Part of Traditional Punjabi Culture
Unfortunately the mulberry trees in the Punjab have been depleted by a fungal disease and many were felled for fuel and to construct new roads and housing developments. A mulberry tree used to be beside almost all village wells and in fields, providing welcome shade for the labourers.
In previous times in the not so distant past, baskets would be woven from the bark and wood of the Shahtoot trees (tokra, the large baskets and tokri the smaller ones). However this ancient craft has died out in most regions. Small children would make bows and arrows from the flexible wood of the trees too, but they can no longer do this and plastic guns have taken the place of the traditional toys.
They are mentioned in folk songs in much the same manner as the British nursery rhyme about mulberry trees, “Here we go round the Mulberry Bush.”
Moves to Reintroduce Mulberry Trees
Pakistan’s Sericulture Wing of the Punjab Forest Department is hoping to reintroduce mulberry trees, including the white shahtoot, and a newly discovered mulberry bush-sized plant, to the region in an attempt to promote sericulture (silk worm farming) in rural areas. Currently Pakistan imports silk for use in its textile industry, so home produced silk would not only help the rural poor in the Punjab, but would also help the manufacturers.
People are eager to participate in the project, but are waiting for government help and guidelines. The Forest Department hope that soon more people will be able to make a living farming silk worms.
6th January 2010, “Cottage Industry can Employ 25% of Rural Population” The Nation, (daily English newspaper, Lahore, Pakistan)
Mushtaq Ahmed, et al., “Treatment of Common Ailments by Plant-Based Remedies Among the People of District Attock (Punjab) of Northern Pakistan” African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines Vol 4; 1; 2007 pp112-20
Dinesh Dhuman, 6th September 2010, “The Withering Tradition of Punjabi Basket Weaving” News, UKPHA org. (Accessed 10/11/2010)