Mustard plant


Synonyms: Brown Mustard, Chinese Mustard, Indian Mustard, Mustard Seed, Red Mustard

Scientific Name: Brassica nigra L.

Family: Brassicaceae (mustard family/cabbage family)


There are two distinct species of black mustard. One is found throughout Southern Europe and North Africa, the other in the Near East and Western Asia.


Sinigrin, fatty oil, protein, mucilage.


We are familiar with mustard in bottles or jars, or as the little round seeds found in a jar of pickles, but what does the plant which produces this seed look like? Black mustard, most often used for the condiment, is an annual cultivated plant that can grow to a height of up to 6 1/2 ft/2 m, depending on variety, but can also be found growing wild on fallow land. From June to October its thin stems bear loosely grouped, erect, bright sulphur-yellow flowers. Each flower has four petals arranged in the form of a cross, hence the alternative family name, Cruciferae. From the flowers grow elongated pods containing four to ten dark-brown mustard seeds. The stalked leaves are elongated and entire at the top of the plant and pinnate lower down on the stem, and closely resemble those of its relative arugula.


Mustard seeds contain an enzyme, myrosinase, that becomes active as soon as the seeds are crushed. This enzyme breaks down the sugar compound (glycoside) sinigrin in mustard into the volatile, irritant allyl mustard oil, along with glucose and potassium bisulphate.

Because of their volatile mustard oil content, ground mustard seeds as well as mustard flour, which is left after the seeds are processed to obtain mustard oil, are traditionally used to stimulate circulation to the skin. They are also used for cough and joint pain. Both the seeds and the flour can be made into a paste with water and applied as a compress to the skin. Mustard flour is also traditionally used for footbaths to warm the body and help clear stuffiness in colds or headaches.

Because of its extremely irritant action used full strength, only trained nursing staff should apply mustard packs or provide detailed instructions before home use.

After application the skin should be cleaned thoroughly with cool water and then rubbed with a skin care oil.

Internally, mustard seeds and mustard condiments have a beneficial effect on digestion. They stimulate the appetite, support digestion of fatty foods and support healthy bowel movement.

Interesting Facts

The scientific name “Brassica”, meaning cabbage, may derive from the Latin praesecare = pre-cut. In earlier times mustard leaves were cut off before the seeds ripened and fed to livestock. The epithet “nigra” means black and refers to the color of the mustard seed. The plant’s English name comes from the Latin “mustum” meaning, must or new wine, and “ardens” = burning, because it was originally prepared by adding must to crushed mustard seeds.

When in the Neolithic period (New Stone Age) human beings began the transition from hunters and gatherers to a settled farming culture, mustard was just a weed which grew in the flax fields. The Germanic and Celtic tribes discovered that the leaves of the mustard plant are edible. Even today, its appetizing young leaves and flowers make a healthy addition to salads since they are rich in proteins, provitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C and mineral salts. The Romans discovered how to make a spicy paste from the seeds. They liked using mustard in their food preparation and also spiced their wine with mustard seeds. Mustard was already recognized as a health-promoting plant in ancient times. The Greek physician Dioscorides (1st century CE) recommended white mustard for internal irritations, among other things.

Mustard is also an important plant in distant cultures. The Japanese use mustard leaves as tempura, fried in beer batter with soy sauce. In Indian cuisine mustard is mentioned as a spice and vegetable as early as 500 BC in the Acaranga Sutra, the first Anga Agama (canonical text) of the Indian Jain religion. In addition to ghee (clarified butter), Indians use pressed oil of mustard seed for cooking and frying. When boiled with henna leaves mustard oil produces a hair oil beloved of Indian girls and women for scalp massage and believed to improve hair growth.

Our condiment mustard is usually prepared from black mustard. In the first step, the seeds are fermented to generate allyl isothiocyanate, the active principle of volatile mustard oil. The subsequent procedures vary, with different regions producing very diverse flavors ranging from sweet to pungent or fiery, sometimes adding herbs or figs but sometimes just leaving the mustard pure. Yellowish mustard seeds are often found in shops. These come from the milder white mustard (Sinapis alba) and are also used in condiment mustard, but are of no medicinal importance since they have only a mildly laxative effect.

Apart from its culinary and medicinal importance, mustard has always played a role as protective plant. Western European cultures saw the yellow flowers as bearers of sunlight. Mustard was thought to invigorate the spirit and drive away melancholy. If a woman intended to be the boss in her household, she secretly took mustard and dill with her to her wedding ceremony during which, she murmured a rhyme which translates as: “I have mustard, I have dill, husband when I’m speaking you be still!” In Indian popular tradition mustard is held to drive out demons and is added to the incense burnt for newborns and the first bath a mother takes after giving birth. At the festival for the dead and at the feeding of the ancestors, family members rub the palms of their hands and soles of their feet with mustard oil.

Mustard is also much referred to in proverbs. In English we “cut the mustard” if we meet expectations. In German, making uninvited comments is known as “adding one’s mustard”. And to “sugar the mustard” means to sweeten unpalatable truths.

The plant from another perspective

As a typical representative of the cruciferous family, mustard is a plant that colonizes empty, fallow spaces with vigor. Its vitality is also expressed in the sulphurous volatile mustard oil, the irritant active component of mustard which is only released when the seeds are broken. By stimulating metabolic processes and blood flow, mustard acts as vigorously on the skin and organs of motion as it does when colonizing fallow land.

The Plant in our Products

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