Family: Brassicaceae (Cruciferae), Brassica species

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Mustard refers to several Brassica species that are valued for their spicy and pungent dried seeds. Native to Eurasia, the species is widely cultivated in Europe and North America. Black mustard, Brassica nigra (L.) W. D. J. Koch, is a many-branched annual with yellow flowers. Formerly classified as Sinapis nigra L., the plant, whose seeds are used in table mustard, reaches a height of 2 meters. Brown mustard, Brassica juncea (L.) Czerniak, is an annual with yellow flowers. Also known as Indian mustard, leaf mustard, and mustard greens, the plant was classified as Brassica rugosa Hort. and Sinapis juncea L. Seeds of this species are used for table mustard and leaves are used as salad greens. White mustard, Brassica hirta Moench., is an annual with yellow flowers and hairy seed pods. Formerly classified as Brassica alba (L.) Rabenh. and Sinapis alba L., the plant is cultivated for seeds used in table mustard and leaves used as salad greens. Rape refers to Brassica napus L., colza or Argentine rape, and Brassica rapa L., field mustard. Reaching a height of 1 meter, these plants have branching stems, yellow flowers, brown fruit, and brown-black seeds. The seeds are the source of rapeseed or colza oil, used as industrial lubricating oil and edible salad oil.

The reported life zone for mustard and rape is 5 to 27 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 4.2 meters and a soil pH of 4.2 to 8.3 (4.1-31). The mustards are best adapted to sandy loam soils with limited rainfall. Rape is a cool-season crop that grows best in clay or clay-loam soils. Cultivation of mustard and rape crops is completely mechanized. The crops are sown in the spring and harvested in the fall. Fully ripe fruit shatters, and the crop must therefore be harvested before the plants reach this growth stage.

The aroma and flavor of mustard comes from the essential oil (which can now be made synthetically) contained as glucosides inside the seeds (14.1-11). Powdered mustard has essentially no aroma until it is moistened. The enzymatic action of myrosin on the glucoside sinigrin in black and brown mustard or on sinalbin in white mustard releases the mustard oil, which consists principally of allyl isothiocyanate in black and brown mustards and of p-hydroxybenzyl isothiocyanate in white mustard, the compounds responsible for the pungency (1.5-151, 1.6-41). The steam-extracted volatile oil of black and brown mustard is about 94% allyl isothiocyanate, and it also contains some allyl cyanide and carbon disulfide (14.1-11). The essential oil of white mustard is extracted from seeds with solvents (14.1-11).

Mustard seed and seed products are used extensively in the food industry, in meats, sausages, processed vegetables, and relishes. White mustard is generally used for flavoring, and black and brown mustards are generally used for aroma (14.1-11). Mustard seeds are processed to yield mustard flour, from which table mustard and other condiments are made. Ground mustard, powdered dry mustard, prepared mustard, mustard paste, and whole seeds are commercially available. White, brown, and black mustards are blended to secure the desired flavor and aroma. White mustard seed is used as a spice in cucumber pickling. Prepared English and French mustards are usually made from brown mustard seeds, to which are added capers, white wine, and vinegar. Mustards are used in mayonnaise and other products as emulsion stabilizers, antioxidants, and antifungal agents (11.1-126). In addition to providing seed oil for industry and food products, rape plants are grown as forage crops for livestock and to produce seed for bird feed.

As a medicinal plant, mustard has traditionally been considered a digestive irritant, rubefacient, and stimulant. Mustard has been used as a folk remedy against arthritis, rheumatism, inflammation, and toothache. The powdered seeds act as a stimulant to gastric mucosa and increase pancreatic secretions (11.1-96). Contact of mustard extract with skin can cause blistering. Isothiocyanate in mustard oil considered poisonous and mutagenic, has induced goiter in laboratory animals (7.6-5). Pharmaceutically, mustards are considered emetics and counterirritants in humans and animals, and are used as carminatives in veterinary practices (14.1-35).

Brassica juncea (L.) Czerniak var. crispifolia L. H. Bailey, curled mustard, var. foliosa L. H. Bailey, broad-leaved mustard, and other Brassica species are commonly used as mustard greens.

Black, brown, and white mustard are generally recognized as safe for human consumption as spices/natural flavorings and as plant extracts (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997