The mustard plant
Mustard is native to Europe, Siberia and China and was already grown by the Greeks in the 5th century BCE and by the Romans in the 4th century BCE. They used it as a spice to enhance the flavour of food and to preserve meat. Mainly grown for its seeds, mustard is used to make one of the oldest condiments in Europe, yet it is also reputed for its many medicinal properties.
Mustard is native to Europe, Siberia and China and was grown for its seeds by the Greeks in the 5th century BCE and by the Romans in the 4th century BCE. Already at that time, the seeds were turned into a paste and used as a condiment to enhance the flavour of food and to preserve meat. Mustard seeds were also used in various parts of the world for their medicinal, digestive and antiseptic properties, in the treatment of colds, rheumatism, skin rashes, respiratory problems and sciatica pain. The mustard plant also played a role in certain rituals in Africa, where it was believed that smoking its dried flowers and leaves enabled a person to communicate with their ancestors
Easy to grow
Mustard multiplies quickly in temperate climates. However, it prefers moist, calcareous terrains and sunny areas. Some varieties are grown as leafy vegetables and others for their seeds. The seedlings are planted in the ground between the end of March and mid-May, and harvested towards the end of July or August. At harvest time, the pods are dried so the seeds can be collected and processed. To avoid impoverishing the soil, mustard cultivation is alternated with cereal cultivation.
Three main mustard varieties
Mustard belongs to the Brassicaceae family (crucifers) and is an annual herbaceous plant with long, branched stems measuring between 1 and 2 metres, and clusters of yellow flowers. Mustard grows easily in temperate climates. A cousin of the rapeseed plant, it is nonetheless more resistant to drought, heat and frost.
Three main varieties are cultivated: Black mustard (Brassicae nigra), native to Southern Europe and Asia, has lobed, hairy leaves and black seeds. However, it is becoming increasingly rare as a crop. Brown mustard (Brassicae juncea), from India, is a hardy plant with larger seeds than those of black mustard. The seeds of white mustard (Sinapis alba) are characterised by their pale yellow colour. Unlike black mustard, the pods of the white mustard plant have beak-shaped extremities. There is also field mustard (Sinapis arvensis), which grows prolifically in the wild, but is considered as a weed.
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