The wild Mustard (Brassica Sinapistrum), a Cruciferous herb commonly called Chedlock, from leac, a weed, and kiede, to annoy, grows abundantly as a product of waste places, and in newly disturbed ground.
The Field Mustard (Arvensis) is Charlock, or Brassock; its botanical term, Sinapis, being referable to the Celtic nap, as a general name for plants of the rape kind. Mustard was formerly known as "senvie" in English. It has been long cultivated and improved, especially in Darham.
Now we have for commercial and officinal purposes two varieties of the cultivated plant, the black Mustard (Sinapis nigra), and the white Mustard (Brassica, or Sinapis alba). There is also a plain plant of the hedges, Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale) which is a mere rustic Simple. It is the black Mustard which yields by its seeds the condiment of our tables, and the pungent yellow flour which we employ for the familiar stimulating poultice, or sinapism. This black
Mustard is a tall smooth plant, having entire leaves, and smooth seed pods, being now grown for the market on rich alluvial soil chiefly in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. In common with its kindred plants it gets its name from mustum, the "must," or newly fermented grape juice, and ardens, burning, because as a condiment, Mustard flour was formerly mixed with home-made wine and sugar. The virtues of black Mustard depend on the acrid volatile oil contained in its
seeds. These when unbruised and macerated in boiling water yield only a tasteless mucilage which resides in their skin. But when bruised they develop a very active, pungent, and highly stimulative principle with a powerful penetrating odor which makes the eyes water. From thence is perhaps derived the generic name of the herb Sinapis Para tou sinesthai tous hopous, "because it irritates the eyes"). This active principle contains sulphur abundantly, as is proved by the
discoloration of a silver spoon when left in the mustard-pot, the black sulphuret of silver being formed. The chemical basis of black Mustard is "sinnigrin" and its acid myronic. The acridity of its oil is modified in the seeds by combination with another fixed oil of a bland nature which can be readily separated by pressure, then the cake left after the expression of this fixed oil is far more pungent than the seeds. The bland oil expressed from the hulls of the black seeds
after the flour has been sifted away, promotes the growth of the hair, and may be used with benefit externally for rheumatism. Whitehead's noted Essence of Mustard is made with spirits of turpentine and rosemary, with which camphor and the farina of black Mustard seed are mixed. This oil is very little affected by frost or the atmosphere; and it is therefore specially prized by clock makers, and for instruments of precision.
A Mustard poultice from the farina of black Mustard made into a paste with, or without wheaten flour commingled, constitutes one of the most powerful external stimulating applications we can employ. It quickly induces a sharp burning pain, and it excites a destructive outward inflammation which enters much more into the true skin than that which is caused by an old fashioned blister of Spanish fly. This has therefore superseded the latter as more promptly and reliably
effective for the speedy relief of all active internal congestions. If the application of Mustard has caused sores, these may be best soothed and healed by lime-water liniment.
Mustard flour is an infallible antiseptic and sterilizing agent. It is a capital deodorizer; and if rubbed thoroughly into the bands and nails will take away all offensive stink when corrupt or dead tissues have been manipulated.
If a tablespoonful of Mustard flour is added to a pint of tepid water, and taken at a draught it operates briskly as a stimulating and sure emetic. Hot water poured on bruised seeds of black Mustard makes a good stimulating footbath for helping to throw off a cold, or to dispel a headache; and meantime the volatile oil given out as an aroma, if not too strong, proves soporific. This oil contains erucic, and sinapoleic acids. When properly mixed with spirit of wine,
twenty-four drops of the oil to an ounce of spirit, the essential oil forms, by reason of its stimulating properties and its contained sulphur, a capital liniment for use in rheumatism, or for determining blood to the surface from deeper parts. Caution should be used not to apply a plaster made altogether of Mustard flour to the delicate skin of young children, or females, because ulcers difficult to heal may be the result, or even gangrenous destruction of the deeper skin
may follow. The effects of a Mustard bath, at about ninety degrees, are singular; decided chills are felt at first throughout the whole body, with some twitchings at times of the limbs; and later on, even after the skin surface has become generally red, this sense of coldness persists, until the person leaves the water, when reaction becomes quickly established, with a glowing heat and redness of the whole skin.
For obstinate hiccough a teacupful of boiling water should be poured on a teaspoonful of Mustard flour, and taken when sufficiently cool, half at first, and the other half in ten minutes if still needed. For congestive headache a small roll of Mustard paper or Mustard leaf may be introduced into one or both nostrils, and left there for a minute or more. It will relieve the headache promptly, and may perhaps induce some nose bleeding.
Admixture with vinegar checks the development of the pungent principles of Mustard. This used to be practiced for the table in England, but is now discontinued, though some housewives add a little salt to their made Mustard.
Claims for the introduction of Mustard at Durham in 1720, have been raised in favour of a Mrs. Clements, but they cannot be substantiated. Shakespeare in the "Taming of the Shrew" makes Grumio ask Katherine "What say you to a piece of beef and Mustard?" and speaks, in "Henry IV"., of Poins' wit being "as thick as Tewkesbury Mustard"; whilst Fuller in his "Worthies of England", written only a very few years after Shakespeare's death, says "the best Mustard in England is made
at Tewkesbury in the county of Gloucester." Coles observes (1657), "in Gloucestershire about Teuxbury they grind Mustard seed and make it up into balls, which are brought to London and other remote places as being the best that the world affords." George the First restored the popularity of Mustard by his approval of it. Prior to 1720 no such condiment as Mustard in its present form was used at table in this country. It is not improbable that the Romans, who were great eaters
of Mustard-seed pounded and steeped in new wine, brought the condiment with them to our shores, and taught the ancient Britons how to prepare it. At Dijon in France where the best mixed continental Mustard is made, the condiment is seasoned with various spices and savouries, such as Anchovies, Capers, Tarragon, Catsup of Walnuts, or Mushrooms, and the liquors of other pickles. Philip the Bold granted armorial ensigns (1382) to Dijon, with the motto moult me tarde (I
wish for ardently). The merchants of Sinapi copied this on their wares, the middle word of the motto being accidentally effaced. A well-known couplet of lines supposed to occur in "Hudibras" (but not to be found there), has long baffled the research of quotation hunters:
"Sympathy without relief Is like to Mustard without beef."
Mustard flour moistened with a little water into a paste has the singular property of dispelling the odors of musk, camphor, and the fetid gum resins. For deodorising vessels which have contained the essences of turpentine, creasote, assafetida, or other such drugs, it will answer to introduce some bruised Mustard-seed, and then a little water, shaking the vessel well for a minute or more, and afterwards rinsing it out with plenty of water.
The white Mustard grows when uncultivated on waste ground with large yellow flowers, and does not yield under any circumstances a pungent oil like the black Mustard. It is a hirsute plant, with stalked leaves and hairy seed pods; and when produced in our gardens its young leaves are eaten as a salad, or as "Mustard, with Cress."
"When in the leaf," says John Evelyn in his "Acetaria", "Mustard, especially in young seedling plants, is of incomparable effect to quicken and revive the spirits, strengthening the memory, expelling heaviness, preventing the vertiginous palsy, and a laudable cephalic, besides being an approved antiscorbutic." He tells further that the Italians, in making Mustard as a condiment, mingle lemon and orange peel with the (black) seeds. "In the composition of a sallet the Mustard
(a noble ingredient) should be of the best Tewkesbury or else of the soundest and weightiest Yorkshire seed, tempered a little by the fire to the consistence of a pap with vinegar, in which some shavings of the horseradish have been steeped. Then, cutting an onion, and putting it into a small earthen gally-pot, pour the Mustard over it and close it very well with a cork.
Note.--The seeds should have been pounded in a mortar, or bruised with a polished cannon bullet in a large wooden bowl dish."
The active principle of white Mustard is "Sinapin," and the seed germinates so rapidly that it has been said a salad of this may be grown while the joint of meat is being roasted for dinner. Seeds of the white Mustard have been employed medicinally from early times. Hippocrates advised their use both internally, and as a counter-irritating poultice made with vinegar. When swallowed whole in teaspoonful doses three or four times a day, they exercise a laxative effect
mechanically, and are voided without undergoing any perceptible change, only the outer skin being a little softened and mucilaginous. An infusion of the seed taken medicinally will relieve chronic bronchitis, and confirmed rheumatism: also for a relaxed sore throat a gargle of Mustard seed tea will be found of service.
A French expression for trifling one's time away is s'amuser ?a moutarde. The essential oil is an admirable deodorant and disinfectant, especially on an emergency.
But the "grain of Mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds" (Mark iv., 31), "which when it is grown up is the greatest among herbs," was a tree of the East, very different from our Mustard, and bearing branches of real wood.
The Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium, or Erisymum) grows by our roadsides, and on waste grounds, where it seems to possess a peculiar aptitude for collecting and retaining dust. The pods are downy, close pressed to the stem, and the leaves hairy with their points turned backwards. It is named by the French "St. Barbara's Hedge Mustard," and the Singer's Plant, "herbe au chantre," or "herbe au chanteur."
Up to the time of Louis XIV, it was considered an infallible remedy for loss of the voice. Racine writing to Boileau recommended the syrup of Erysimum to him when visiting the waters of Bourbonne in order to be cured of voicelessness. "Si les eaux de Bourbonne ne vous guerissent pas de votre extinction de voix, le sirop d'Erysimum vous guerirait infalliblement. Ne l'oubliez pas, et ?'occasion vingt grammes par litre
d'eau en tisane matin et soir."
It used to be called Flix, or Flux weed from being given with benefit in dysentery, a disease formerly known as the Flix. This herb has been commended for chronic coughs and hoarseness, using the juice mixed with an equal quantity of honey, or sugar. It has been designated "the most excellent of all remedies for diseases of the throat, especially in ulcerated sore throats, which it will serve to cure when all the advice of physicians and surgeons has proved ineffectual." A
strong infusion of the herb is excellent in asthmas, and it may be made with sugar into a syrup which will keep all the year round. The Hedge Mustard contains chemically a soft resin, and a sulphuretted volatile oil. This herb with the vervain is supposed to form Count Mattaei's noted nostrum "Febrifugo".
The Primitive Simplers presented here show the way of life in other generations, it is not suggested or recommended trying them yourself.
History of Herbs
Herbs for Beginners
Drying & Preserving Herbs
Indoor Herb Gardening
Hints & Tips
Oil and Vinegar
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