The first of the wild mustards is up. The yellow flowers providing a striking blaze of color in the green carpet of spring. There are a number of wild mustards that are edible, medicinal and have a utilitarian use. The first to appear is Brassica nigra or Black Mustard. Some older farmers eradicate this plant as they say it makes grazing livestock sick. I have found that horses, cows and goats eat it before it flowers and seem to suffer no side effects. Since the seed can be irritating to some people’s skin, eyes and noses perhaps Mustard is only a problem when grazing animals eat it once it has reached maturity.
The leaves are quite tasty and can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach. This plant is very prolific. The leaves can be dried as can the young stems. Adding dried Mustard to soup and stew and as a colorful addition to eggs is one way to get nutrients during the winter. The flower petals are also colorful. The bright yellow color remains after they are dried. They can be added to wildcrafted flours, sprinkled on potato’s, eggs and used as saffron. The seed is dried and ground providing a pepper like spice. The whole seed can be used when making pickles and relish. Adding cold water to the ground or crushed seed makes it hotter than it already is. If you have a press, the seeds will yield an edible and burnable oil. It takes a lot of seeds to produce a small amount of oil but wild mustard is so prolific it is easy to gather enough to make oil for cooking or lighting.
The maturity of Wild Mustard will vary as plants located only a few yards away will be younger or older depending on how much sun they receive. This plant is growing next to a young Milfoil plant, (Yarrow.) There are other Milfoil plants less than 10 feet away that are younger than these while other Mustard plants growing a few feet away are closer to harvesting for seed.
The important medicinal use of mustard is its heating and blood vessel dilating properties. When crushed or ground the seed is mixed with a small amount of water making a paste. This paste is spread on flannel or cotton cloth and placed cloth down-herb up on the chest, sore joints or anywhere there is swelling and pain. Mustard plasters were once the standard treatment for chest colds and croup. Keep in mind that some people are sensitive to Mustard. Applying a thick or large amount might cause a localized rash where it touches the skin. Mustard opens blood vessels allowing the circulatory system to draw out toxins and letting blood flow increase. Like Hot Pepper and Cayenne Pepper, Mustard can be used to reduce the pain of headaches and migraines when taken as a tea or encapsulated. Mustard vapors, made by putting a few teaspoons of ground Mustard seed in a bowl, pouring hot water over it, and placing your face over the bowl with a towel to keep in the steam is helpful in clearing sinuses. Remember to keep your eyes closed as the vapors can be irritating to sensitive eye tissues.
The oil from Mustard can also be used as a lubricant as it is semi-drying. While it will thicken it never really dries. The plant produces a weak, semi-permanent dye. The flowers will produce a yellowish green dye. It is also semi-permanent. The most useful aspect of Mustard is as green manure. Green manure is a plant that has a quick growing period that is turned back into the soil to enrich it and to create a better balanced soil. I have heard of people who live in sandy regions that plant Spinach and Mustard together to produce soil that will support most food crops like corn, peas and beans. The plants are allowed to reach maturity then turned back into the soil. A second or third planting can be worked into the soil in one growing season. Paint Mustard oil on items you do not want dogs to chew on or cats to scratch on. Many commercially made products for this purpose use Oil of Mustard. The flowers have a pleasing scent but it doesn’t remain once dried and it takes a large handful to enjoy the fragrance inside.
Wild Mustards are hardy plants and seem to grow in all areas. Wet, dry, sandy, and loam. They grow quickly and are frost and cold tolerant.