Mulberry (Morus)

Mulberry tree

In spite of the claims to the fairness, the European Indo-Europeanists never philologically examined the names of any of the typically Indian trees and herbs for assessment whether these belonged to the Indo-European vocabulary. Often many distortions of facts and wrong assumptions were used as evidence to support the claims which were not correct. The case of the mulberry tree well exemplifies this.

Mulberry is a sub-Himalayan forest tree, which grows mainly in India but also in East China, Japan and the Americas (Suttie). It has spread to Europe as a cultivated tree owing to human activity. In Europe, the oldest pollen of the Morus tree has been found from Belgium dating the Late Bronze Age otherwise the botanical samples of the Morus tree are only known as Roman introductions in nearby regions such as France, Germany and the British Isles (Vanessa 2005).

Girdini (2013) reported finding of the mulberry remains from the historical period of Rome. Carroll (2012) noted the presence of Morus pollens from 400-800 BC in the islands of Malta. Anderson et al noted the presence of the mulberry pollens only during the last 100 years in Spain in their study of the pollens from a period spanning about 11,500 years of Spain (2011:1622). Hence it is safe to conclude that the mulberry tree was not found in North Europe and the Western steppe until quite late. It is as late as the first millennium BC that the tree reached Southeast Europe and was cultivated in significant numbers. However the Bronze Age migrations from India to Europe had probably carried some mulberry trees from India to North Europe (Belgium) by the Late Bronze Age (Vanessa 2005).

Several species of Morus indica are found in India. With the growth of the silk trade the tree has spread to Central Asia, Near East and Europe (Sanchez 2000). It was never grown, or even known, in the steppe. However we note that there are at least two PIE reconstructions possible for the mulberry tree, indicating that the Indo-European home was located at a place where mulberry grew, and thus it was not the steppe nor even Europe but most likely in India. One reconstructed word is *moro (Pokorny:749 &), and the other *brahma (of this author, or * bherem of Pokorny:142).

Mulberry 1: PIE moro- (mulberry , Pokorny:749); Sanskrit madhura-vṛkṣa (mulberry-tree; Pokorny does not list this Sanskrit word, however, the word has been recorded by Turner in CDIAL 14733); Arm. mor, mori, moreni (blackberry); Gk. moron (μόρον, mulberry, blackberry); Welsh merwydden (mulberry); Lat. mōrum (mulberry, blackberry; Valpi:271), mōrus (mulberry, Valpi:271); Spanish morera (mulberry), French murier (mulberry); O.H.G. mūr-, mōrbere, M.H.G. mūlber (mulberry); Lith. mõras (mulberry). Cognates of *moro are absent from the IE language of the steppe i.e. Ukrainian, where the mulberry is called shovkoveetsya. This indicates that the steppe was not the source of the PIE word for the mulberry.

A wild mulberry tree Artocarpus lacucha (within the mulberry family Moraceae) has identical fruits and leaves to the mulberry, and has been named madar in Assamese and Bengali languages (CDIAL 9849; madhura>madāra). These words must have migrated with the tree itself when the human contact brought the mulberry tree to Europe during the Bronze Age. Hence there is no identification problem or confusion with the names of other plants and trees. However this contact was not the Indo-European migration which had already taken place many millennia ago in our study.


Mulberry 2: Sanskrit brahma-niṣṭha, brahma-bīja, brahma-bhāga, brahma-sthana, brahmaṇya, brāhmaṇya (all meaning ‘mulberry’, q.v. MWD). The common part is brahma. The mulberry does not grow in the wild in North Europe. Yet, the cognate words of its name have travelled into the Nordic territory and are well represented in the Germanic languages as words which mean the “blackberry”. The migration of this set of cognates must have taken place with the original Indo-European migration. The mulberry did not grow in Europe then, hence the name got applied to blackberry which has similar fruits. These words are:

Proto-Germanic *brāmil, English “broom”, O.E. brōm (broom brush), M.L.G. brām (blackberry bush), O.H.G. brāmo, brāma (blackberry bush), brāmberi (PIE *bherem, Pokorny:142). Other cognates are: Ger. Brombeere, O.E. brēmel, Eng. bramble all meaning the “blackberry”.

The Gothic word bagms (tree) as in baíra-bagms (mulberry tree, Lehmann: 55 note B5) may too be a cognate of the Sanskrit word brahma. Central Indian archaic language Nihali which is not related to the IE, has the word baru (mulberry; Witzel Fulltext:21) which may be an early borrowing of the Indo-European brahma. These cognates probably migrated along with the first post-glacial migration from India to Europe taking place at the early Holocene as R1a1a migration.

It may be noted that although the bramble or the blackberry is a bush, and mulberry is a huge tree, yet the fruits of both look alike, and in the absence of mulberry, the words were rightly applied to the blackberry in North Europe. Just as the cognates of morus, the cognates of brahma- etc too are absent from the modern steppe’s IE languages like Ukrainian, where the bramble is called ozheena.

Source: In Quest of the Dates of the Vedas, pp. 273-276.