“What do you call the stuff you put on your hotdog that is THAT color?” I ask the kids while walking about at Audubon, pointing at a stand of bright yellow flowers atop a straggly collection of stems with all kinds of leaves.
“That’s right… and guess what the name of that plant is?”
“They make mustard out of that?”
Well, probably not this mustard plant… There are lots of different kinds of mustard plants, over 3,000 worldwide. This one is called Field Mustard (Brassica rapa) and it is very common – found throughout North America, though originally from Europe. According to one source, all mustards are edible, though some taste better than others. Want to try some? The article states:
For the purposes of the Mustard family, all you need to remember is “4 petals with 6 stamens–4 tall and 2 short”.
And the site has this incredible diagram:
I’m always intrigued by the seeds. Mustards have dehiscent (notice how I use that word so easily… as if I’ve known it all my life… when actually, I just learned it yesterday…) seedpods called siliques. (Pronounce it as if “sleek” had two syllables: suh-leek.) A silique has two outside parts that will fall away when the seed is mature to reveal a clear membrane in which the seeds are held. The picture at left by Dave Bonta shows the skeleton of the Dame’s Rocket siliques. (Yes, Dame’s Rocket is a mustard, too!)
To make the mustard we use as a condiment, the seeds are ground and mixed with other ingredients, such as water and/or vinegar. Black Mustard (B. nigra) seeds are most commonly used, but not exclusively. Learn more by watching this five minute documentary on the making of mustard:
Mustards have been cultivated and bred for thousands of years. On Monday, I planted three members of the mustard family that were all bred from B. oleracea: cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, and broccoli. Three others that might be in your garden from this same heritage are kale, kohlrabi, and cauliflower. Radishes and turnips are also in the mustard family! And toothwort, and horseradish, and garlic mustard, and…
We owe a lot to mustards. That’s probably why there is a Mustard Museum (http://www.mustardweb.com/index.htm) and a National Mustard Day (the first Saturday in August).