Helpful Herbs: Mustard

Aromatic, tasty, easy to grow, and easy to cook with, mustard is a must for your herb or vegetable garden.  You can grow it alongside your lettuce and spinach and take a few clippings for your salads, or keep it with your herbs and enjoy its brilliant yellow flowers and valuable seeds.

It is quite simple to grow mustard from seed, just sow them about 1/8″ deep and 15″ apart, once the ground is workable.  Make sure they’ve got plenty of organic matter to grow in, and water them regularly.  Mustard likes it fairly moist, and prefers cooler temperatures so plant in early spring or towards the end of summer for a fall crop.

kg19-mustard_07_lgThe tender young leaves can be plucked for salads, or you can harvest larger leaves later in the season and stew them as a side dish.  To harvest the seeds, let the plant go to flower and then collect the seed pods once they’ve bloomed.  Pluck them just as they start turning brown, and let them dry on a screen for about two weeks before shelling.

Mustard is a common part of “mesclun mixes”, popularly sold collections of various salad seeds for easy planting and harvesting.  The mustard included in these mixes adds a spicy tang to the leaves when harvested and eaten.  Mustard grown alone can be trimmed and used with lettuce or your favorite greens to make up a salad, and you can add your preferred amount for spiciness.

Mustard greens aren’t just for salads, though, especially once the leaves are older and larger.  You can steam them in oil with garlic and other flavors for a picante side or topping to a meat dish such as ham or fish, and they make a great, flavorful addition to many soups.

If you harvest your mustard plant’s seeds you will have even more opportunities to use them in your cooking.  Whole mustard seeds are perfect for pickling, and can be used in rubs and seasonings.  In a rub on meat or included in a salad or rice, mustard seeds give a dish extra spice and a pleasant crunch.   The ways you can utilize mustard seeds in spices and sauces are numerous, the most common of course being making table mustard – the kind you put on your hot dogs and burgers.

Mustard also has some wonderful medicinal benefits that you can take advantage of.  A mustard salve or ointment can relieve muscle pain and tension.  Mustard seeds have been shown to alleviate symptoms of psoriasis and mustard can help remove symptoms of cold and flu.  It’s an excellent decongestant, and various studies have found that regular consumption of mustard can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

A hardy treasure-trove of helpful advantages, mustard seeds are mentioned in the Bible as a symbol: “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all seeds.  But when grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” (Matthew 13:31-32).

In addition to its Biblical endorsements (it is mentioned another four times), mustard seeds were included in great quantity in the tomb of King Tut.  Wealthy Romans mixed ground mustard seeds with wine, and seeds of the plant have been found in Stone Age settlements.  In Greek myth, Zeus uses a combination of mustard and wine to trick his father, Kronos, into vomiting up his children, the remaining five gods.  By the 17th Century mustard seeds were used as a remedy for tooth and stomach aches, as well as to relieve arthritis and congestion.

The legends and uses of mustard are innumerable and it’s one of the easiest herbs to add to your collection.  A few seeds can make all the difference in your garden, and your health.


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