One of the most useful plants in Chinese herbal medicine is the white mulberry plant, Morus alba. Since ancient times the Chinese have used this plant for raising silkworms which utilize the tree’s leaves as their main source of food. Chinese medical practitioners have used several parts of this plant for centuries to treat various health conditions. The Chinese term for the mulberry plant is sang. The plant parts used in Chinese herbology include the fruit (sang shen), leaves (sang ye), and the root bark (sang bai pi). Additionally the silkworm fecal matter (can sha) created after the worms have eaten the leaves is an important medicinal derived from this plant. Each plant part has a unique characteristics and different therapeutic use.
Mulberry fruit is a sweet, gentle, and cooling blood tonic that enhances the nourishing, cooling, and moistening (Yin) aspects of the liver and kidneys. Chinese medicine utilizes this herb to treat deficient conditions such as anemia, dry constipation, and the premature graying of hair. The ability for this fruit to treat deficient conditions may be due to the fact that it contains significant amounts of vitamin A, B1, B2, C, protein, lipids, and anthocyanins. According to Subhuti Dharmananda, president of the Institute for Traditional Medicine, the high levels of anthocyanins, “may improve blood circulation and other body functions to alleviate many symptoms that arise under deficiency conditions.” In China today, morus fruit is bottled as a beverage and marketed to improve the immune system, enhance general health, and promote longevity.
Morus leaves are sweet and cooling like the fruit, but also have a bitter flavor. The leaves enter the liver and lung meridians where the cooling and bitter properties remove externally contracted heat conditions (as occurring with cold or flu) with symptoms such as fever, sore throat, headache, sore-watery eyes and cough. Also., mulberry leaves are used to stop bleeding in patients who are vomiting blood. Western studies have shown that decoctions made from fresh mulberry leaf can inhibit several bacteria including Staphyloccocus aureus, Escherichi coli, and hemolytic streptococcus. New research shows that mulberry leaf extracts may play a role in the management and treatment of diabetes.
Similar to the leaves of this plant, morus root bark is sweet and cold in nature and enters the lung meridian. The difference between morus leaves and the root bark is that the latter is indicated for coughs that have hot phlegm. In Chinese medicine hot phlegm occurs when the body’s physiological fluids in the Lung are heated and congealed in reaction to a pathogen. The phlegm can then turn white, yellow, green, or even gray depending on the severity of the heat. Morus root bark has the ability to help the body transform the pathological phlegm with a downward directing function that settles coughs, wheezing, and facilitates urination to eliminate excess fluid. In fact, this herb is commonly used for the treatment of edema especially when it is around the eyes. According to John Chen, author of Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, the water and alcohol extracts of morus root bark “have a marked diuretic effect by increasing the excretion of water, sodium chloride, and potassium.” Other pharmacological effects of this herb include inhibiting bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typhi, and Baccillus dysenteriae.
Because of its sweet, acrid, and warm qualities, the silkworm fecal matter is effective for the treatment of pain in the extremities and abdomen caused by Wind and Dampness. Chinese medicine considers this type of pain in the extremities as Wind-Dampness Painful Obstructive Syndrome. Wind refers to the tight or pulling nature of the pain (like a spasm) and the dampness to the swelling in the joints that is often exacerbated in damp environments or damp weather. The silkworm’s fecal matter has a warm quality is able to dry the damp obstruction and the acrid quality helps increase the blood flow to eliminate muscle aches and pain.
Believe it or not, silkworm fecal matter is also used in Chinese medicine to harmonize the stomach. Its sweet flavor harmonizes the stomach and the warm and pungent properties help eliminate any fluids that may be obstructing the normal flow and function of the stomach. For these reasons this herb can stop abdominal cramping and transform the dampness that is inherent in diarrhea and vomiting. Finally, this herb is commonly used to treat itchy skin and eczema. The acrid and warm properties help bring blood to the skin, dry the secretions, and promote healing.
Morus albae is a unique plant in Chinese herbal medicine. This plant’s fruit, leaves, root bark, and the silkworm fecal matter created from the leaves all have unique characteristics. They have been used effectively for centuries and currently are important herbs in Chinese medicine. Morus albae’s diverse therapeutic ability to treat a range of conditions makes this a remarkable plant in the Chinese pharmacopeia.
Chen J., Chen, T. Chinese Herbal Medicine and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, 2001.
Bensky, D., Clavey,S., Stöger,E. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica. Seattle, Washington: Eastland Press, 2004.
Dharmananda, Subhuti, Ph.D., Fruit as Medicine. Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, 2004.
Murata K, Yatsunami K, Fukuda E, et al. Antihyperglycemic effects of propolis mixed with mulberry leaf extract on patients with type 2 diabetes. Altern Ther Health Med May-June 2004;10(3):78-9.