Mustard: An ancient Plant

Health

Mustard is an ancient plant belonging to taxonomic family Crucifereae. It is full of appeal for Indian, and foreign gardeners or farmers.

Mustard plants are easy to grow and they produce seeds in short time. The greens parts of the plant are edible. The flowers are bright yellow and attractive to see. About a dollar’s worth of seed will produce a pantry shelf full of fine and fancy mustards and more greens than we can shake a salad spinner at.

Morphological Features

Mustard in all its forms—shoots, leaves, flowers, whole seed, powdered, or prepared—is a flavorful, low-fat way to punch up any savory food. I’ve used the whole seed in pickling and cooking, tossed the tender greens in fresh salads (garnished with mustard flowers, of course), stewed mature leaves as a southern-style side dish, and crushed spicy seed to make a variety of pungent mustards.

A crop of mustard

Distribution

If you’ve ever traveled to plains of India and California’s wine country in early spring, you may have seen the vineyards awash in yellow flowers. Those are mustard plants, the winemaker’s friend.

Many vineyard owners plant mustard deliberately as a cover crop or let field mustard (Brassica kaber) run rampant. When plowed back into the soil, the plants act as a green manure and release nitrogen. Mustard also repels some insects (the seeds are that hot) and attracts syrphid flies, beneficial predators that attack vine-chewing insects.

Mustard seed contains no cholesterol, only trace amounts of vegetable fat, and about 25 percent protein. Leaf mustard contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and Vitamin B. The calories are negligible in most basic prepared mustards, so you can feel free to indulge.

Applications

Today, mustard is second in demand to pepper among spices in the United States. Historical records indicate the use of mustard as far back as 4,000 b.c.e., and it’s believed prehistoric man chewed mustard seeds with his meat (probably to disguise decay). From about 2,000 b.c.e. on, ancient civilizations used it as oil, a spice, and a medicinal plant. It was introduced into western and northern Europe in the early middle Ages.


Over the years, mustard has been imbued with curative powers. It’s been called an appetite stimulant, a digestive aid, and a decongestant. Because mustard increases blood circulation, it’s often used in plaster form to treat inflammation. Folklore has it you can even sprinkle mustard powder in your socks to prevent frostbite. All mustards come from the Crucifereae, a family that includes broccoli and cabbage. 

Brassica nigra, B. alba, and B. juncea produce black, white (really a yellowish-tan), and brown seeds, respectively. The black seeds of B. nigra are used for moderately spicy mustards. French cooks use them to make Dijon-style mustard—it can be called true Dijon mustard only if it is certified to come from that city, which has the exclusive right to produce it. In West Indian dishes, black seeds are fried until they pop. The black variety produces less-desirable greens, and is really intended to be grown for seed.

White seeds—B. Alba—are the primary ingredient in traditional ball-park mustard, and it’s the most common and the mildest of the three. The white seeds also have the strongest preserving power and are therefore the kitchen gardener’s choice for pickles, relishes, and chutneys. White mustards are not typically grown for their greens. Brown mustard, the hottest of all, is used for curries and Chinese hot mustards, and frequently for Dijon-type mustards. If you’re growing mustard for the greens, choose B. juncea or an Oriental variety like ‘Giant Red’.

Dr. MP Mishra

Dr. M. P. Mishra is a noted environmentalist of India. He is known for his researches in environment conservation, wildlife activism, and for his writings. He has been internationally known for his Bird Housing Project which was devoted to protection and conservation of terrestrial bird species especially in Jharkhand. He has a deep study of the people of Jharkhand, their rituals, arts and crafts and has wandered extensively to study their conditions, their agriculture, their modes of lives, and their skills. Since last many years he has been continuously writing about various environmental and social issues of Jharkhand and has forty six books to his credit. His articles are regularly published in local and national dailies of India. His books on Environmental Awareness, Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, General Science, and biology are widely read and many of his books have been adopted in the schools of foreign countries. His books on Environmental Science have been adopted by the Council of Higher Secondary Education, Orissa, and the Council of Higher Secondary Education Nagaland and Meghalaya. Dr. Mishra is an excellent teacher with innovative ideas and new teaching methodologies. It was due to his commendable services to education that the Department of Human Resources Development, State Government of Jharkhand offered him State Award in the year 2009-010.Dr. Mishra has been awarded with the Presidential Medal and the National Award for the year 2012 for his outstanding Researches in and great contributions to Science and Environment. He has been an active Science Communicator and coordinator of National Council of Science and Technology Communication, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India. He is a member of the Environmental Monitoring Committee under the Jharkhand Academic Council, Jharkhand, Ranchi. It was due to his voluntary services in the field of environment that he has been selected as a nominee of the Committee for Ethical Treatment to Animals, Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India. He has been the Chief Editor of ECOSOC the Environmental Newsletter of International Circulation for more than ten years. He has been the President of the People for Animals for about ten years. As a teacher he is always admired by his students and the academic community across the globe.

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