Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Black Mustard is an edible wild flower it is easy to forage for

Black Mustard Photo by Steve Andrews

Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) is a very common and widely distributed edible plant in the cabbage family Brassicaceae. It is easy to find on waste ground in late spring and early summer because its bright yellow flowers catch the eye and it grows in clumps. 

Black Mustard comes from the Mediterranean area of southern Europe and is thought to be native to parts of Asia too, where it has been used in cooking for thousands of years. Black Mustard, which can reach over two metres in height, though is usually much shorter, is found in the UK and many other parts of the world where it often grows as a weed. It is frequently found growing along pathways and in waste places. 

Black Mustard on waste ground. Photo by Steve Andrews
Black Mustard has a spicy flavour that is a bit like cabbage but mostly like the mustard we are familiar with and use to spice up and add some heat to our foods - mustard on hot-dog sausages, for example.

Mustard is made from the ground seeds of the plant that are made into a paste. The mustard seeds can also be used a spice and as an ingredient of curries or savoury dishes. 

Brassica nigra. In Public Domain
The Black Mustard seeds ripen in August and September but gathering them in quantity though can take a long time and a long time getting them out of the seed-pods they form in. It is much easier to buy mustard from the grocery store or the seeds that can often be found on sale in the spices section.

Best-selling author Richard Mabey, in his classic guide to foraging Food For Free, suggests that we “Try pressing a pinch of seeds into the cheese on the top of Welsh rarebits before cooking.” He also recommends the young leaves as an addition to salads or cooked as a green vegetable. Black Mustard is cooked as greens in Ethiopia.

The yellow flowers can be added to salads too but I like to munch on them when out walking.
Black Mustard has medicinal properties too. The ground up seeds have been mixed with honey and used to treat coughs in eastern Europe. In eastern Canada it was also used as a remedy for respiratory problems. The ground seeds were made into a paste with flour and water and this was applied to the chest or back of a person suffering from a bronchial infection.

Black Mustard is one of the easiest plants to find when out foraging and its distinctive taste will help in its identification.

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