A guide in the age of wildfires.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Brassica nigra, or black mustard, is a widely spread invasive plant species that is outcompeting California natives and threatening biodiversity. Mustard also produces chemicals that inhibit seed germination in the wake of fire damage. And once dry, the mustard becomes tinder for wildfires. For the sake of our ecosystem, including California native flowers such as poppy, lupine, and yarrow, as well as our communities:
Let’s put mustard plants to good use!
There are 3,200 different species in the Mustard family (Brassica nigra being just one of these). You can find them growing up to 6 feet tall, covering disturbed soils such as empty lots, roadsides or anywhere the ground is exposed to rapid drying by sun and wind. Mustards grow fast, setting seed early in the season before all moisture is lost from the ground. While the shapes and sizes of each mustard plant will vary, there are distinct patterns that will help you identify it. The leaves are irregularly shaped, toothed, and somewhat lobed. All mustards have the same flowering and seed patterns:
The seed pods split open from the center to expose the seeds in the middle.
The small yellow mustard flowers occur in clusters at the top of the stalk.
The flowers have four petals and four sepals. In the center of these petals are four tall stamens, two short stamens and one pistil.
Mustard seed pods come in many shapes and sizes, but always appear on the plant in the same radial pattern around the stalk like a spiral staircase.
HOW TO HARVEST
Every part of the plant has a use. Mustard can be harvested by using hand shears to cut stalks at the base. The roots of the plant can be left in the soil to maintain soil structure and contribute nutrients to the soil biology.
HERE’S HOW TO SAVE MUSTARD SEED:
Small harvests can be threshed by rubbing fruits between your hands or against a surface that will cause the shells to break open. For sizable harvests, place whole plants in large tubs or on tarps and step on them. Discard stalks after seeds have been dislodged, and screen and winnow (blow chaff from grain) the remaining material.
Keep safety in mind by wearing closed toed shoes, long sleeves and pants. Don’t forget to stay hydrated and wear sun protection too.
LET’S PUT IT TO GOOD USE
MUSTARD AS FOOD
Nutritionally packed leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and are similar to spinach in flavor. The peppery flowers are tasty in a salad or eaten straight from the plant on a hike.
The dried seeds, ground or whole, are used in many dishes such as curry and can also be made into the condiment mustard with the use of vinegar.
HERE’S HOW TO MAKE THE CONDIMENT
Combine in a bowl:
- 1/2 cup Mustard Seeds
- 1/2 cup Beer
- 1/3 cup Water
- Three Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
- One Tablespoon Maple Syrup
Cover and let stand for two to three days.
After 2–3 days:
Pour the mixture in a blender and blend until smooth and a little grainy. Add one tablespoon of water if the mustard is too thick.
Lasts up to 6 months in the refrigerator.
Mustard can be used to make a healing oil, which is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicinal practice as a soothing and warming oil during the winter.
- One cup of ground mustard seeds
- One cup of a carrier oil such as sweet almond, coconut oil or olive oil
- Optional: Five to ten drops of essential oils like ylang-ylang or lavender
- Grind the mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder, then set aside.
- Create a water bath by filling a saucepan halfway with water. Place on the stove and turn heat on low.
- Place a glass container into the water bath. It is very important to not allow any water into the oil, so be sure that the water doesn’t spill over into the container.
- Pour the cup of carrier oil into the glass container.
- Add the mustard seeds to the oil.
- Heat the oil for two to six hours, making sure the oil stays between 100° – 140° F.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool down.
- Once it’s cool, strain through a cheesecloth.
- Store in an airtight container such as a mason jar.
Keep it in the refrigerator between uses.
You can apply mustard in different forms to achieve different results. Here are some ideas on how to use wild mustard for impromptu remedies:
Mustard oil is touted as an excellent hair conditioner. It is recommended to apply a generous amount of mustard oil on the scalp and leave it for eight hours or overnight.
Mustard is also taken as a tea to reduce headaches, as well as steamed to clear sinus congestion.
Mustard is known to soothe the skin and can be made into a healing face mask.
Mustard helps relax the feet after a long day’s work. It is advisable to add mustard to a basin of warm water for the best result.
The ground seeds can be added to a bath or made into a paste that is laid upon aching muscles or joints to reduce inflammation.
IN THE HOME
MAKE MUSTARD POWDER
To make a powder, first collect and remove seeds from the mustard seed pods. Then grind them using a mortar and pestle or an electric coffee grinder. Sift the powder through a fine mesh strainer to collect any leftover large particles.
Mustard powder is an excellent dishwasher as it effectively absorbs grease. Adding two parts mustard powder to one part baking soda makes for a powerful dishwashing solution.
Mustard powder is known to rid bottles and dishes of foul odor from food residues.
Paper can be made from mustard’s strong cellulose fiber. To make paper you will need a mold and deckle. You can make a mold by stapling a fine mesh screen (such as the material from an old screen door) to a flat frame. For the deckle, find a frame about the same size as the mold. The deckle will be stacked on top of the mold’s frame.
- Mold And Deckle
- Wild Mustard Stems (About 4 Cups Worth)
- Soda Ash Or Washing Soda
- Water Basin
- Gather plant parts, cut into small pieces, and soak them overnight in water.
- Fill a stainless-steel cooking pot with water and boil plants with soda ash, washing soda for about two to three hours.. You’ll need about 1/2 cup of soda ash to every four cups of plant material.
- Once fibers easily separate against the grain, strain and beat the pulp with a mallet on a sturdy surface. You may also do this outdoors by stomping on it instead of using a mallet.
- After beating the pulp, make sure the fibers are broken up even more by placing it into a blender with water and blending it on high.
- Once fibers are thoroughly broken up, put the pulp in a basin of water. Use your hands to agitate the water, stack the mold and deckle on top of each other and dunk into the basin, lifting up to reveal a thin layer of pulp on the screen.
- Transfer the wet sheet from the screen by lifting away the deckle and gently pressing the mold upside down onto an absorbent surface.
- Press with a sponge to remove water. Let dry on flat surface.
This is a good chance to recycle old papers. You can include plain papers that do not have any sort of lamination or coating. Tear the papers into small pieces and add them to the plant mixture at step four onwards.
Mustard can be tilled directly back into the soil and its nutritionally dense composition makes for a great plant fertilizer. It can also be used as green matter in compost.
Mustard can be used in your garden to ward off pests and weeds and increase soil health. Mustard green manures or seed meal are high in glucosinolates, which upon incorporation into the soil form an alternative to synthetic fumigants which denude the soil of beneficial microbes and insects.
Lastly, mustard can be used as biofuel for cars and planes. We don’t expect you to make this one yourself, but perhaps you can support the companies who do!
IT’S YOUR TURN:
NOW GO OUT TO THE WILD,
THERE IS MUSTARD TO USE.
These pages are intended as a starting point to get you inspired about the ways you can use wild mustard.
There are endless possibilities, so now it is your turn to get creative! Let us know how it goes!