The mustard plant belongs to a very important plant family that includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, collards, kale, brussels sprouts, and turnips. Members of this plant family all share similar chemicals, chemicals that give them their unique smell and taste. You either love them or hate them. These distinctive chemicals give these plants more than an identifiable smell, they make these foods super healthy. For the wellness buff, its good to know that these chemicals have been proven to preserve health in a number of ways, they prevent cancer, infection, and more. The stronger the smell, the stronger the health preservation capacity. The mustard plant packs its little seeds with heaps of these chemicals, and its, product, mustard, is a big time ancient health preserver. Read on baby, there’s more to know.
Chapter from “Thirty Plants That Can Save Your Life”
Chapter from “Thirty Plants That Can Save Your Life”
When you see the word mustard what usually comes to mind is the yellow stuff that gets plastered on a bun before the hot dog is seated in the middle. This is, in fact, mustard, the very substance that could save your life.
When we talk of mustard in the realm of life saving we have to deal with a few different mustards, white mustard, black mustard, and leaf mustard. The white and the black are raised for their seed; and the leaf, as one might guess, is raised for its tender greens.
The yellow stuff that comes in bottles with squeeze holes is the ground seed of the black mustard seed, usually mixed with vinegar and a host of secret ingredients. The idea of mustard seed paste is universal, being made from Japan to the United States and back around. The common ingredient in all the mustards is the mustard flour or sinapsine, the materials that keep the mustards glued together varying from country to country. The French make their mustard with whole berries and white wine vinegar, the Chinese make theirs with rice wine vinegar, and the Americans make theirs with artificial flavorings, preservatives and yellow dye. By the way, mustard is not naturally yellow, and mustard that is bright yellow is colored with something that probably isn’t necessary for bodily health. Everybody around the world makes mustard, and each and every culture adds its own touch to the mixture.
The plant that produces the mustard plant and the mustard seed is a relation of cabbage and broccoli, a member of the family that’s gotten so much press as being anti-cancer. The condiment mustard, used internationally, has its roots in health, and all the cultures that smear it on their sandwiches, originally did so to preserve their health. The paste was thought to aid in digestion and lead to extra-vitality.
Hey, next time you have the mustard out for a sandwich, take your shoes and socks off, and smear some on the bottom of your feet, put them up for a spell, and be cured. An old European country cure for debility or falling apart of the body. Who knows, it may work. This treatment is official in reducing fever around the globe. I wouldn’t think of doing this but what we have here is an ancient tradition. On the island of Curacao , the leaves rather than the seeds of the mustard plant are crushed and made into a paste, which is bound under the soles of the feet to draw out fever. I must say I would never have thought to use mustard on anything but on corned beef. But scratch the surface in the arena of mustard and you might be surprised what you will find.
White mustard (Sinapis alba) seems to be indigenous to the southern countries of Europe and Western Asia, from which, according to Chinese authors, it was introduced into China . Formerly it was not distinguished from black mustard. Its cultivation in England is quite recent, but it is now an abundant weed in many sections. White mustard, in common with black mustard, is an exceedingly popular, stimulating condiment, and is preferred, on account of its color as well as its mildness, to the black mustard.
Black mustard (Sinapis nigra) is an herb found over the whole of Europe , excepting the extreme north. It also abounds in Northern Africa, Asia Minor, the Caucasian region, Western India, Southern Siberia, and China , as well as in North and South America , where it is now naturalized. It was known to the ancients, Theophrastus (633), Dioscorides (194), Pliny (514), and others noticing the plant. In early times it seems to have been used more as a medicine than as a condiment; but 300 b.c. Diocletian speaks of it as a substance used as a condiment in the eastern part of the Roman Empire . During the Middle Ages, Europeans esteemed it as an accompaniment to salted meats. The Welsh “Meddygon Myddfai” of the thirteenth century, commends the “Virtues of Mustard.” Household recipes of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries constantly mention mustard under the name senapium. The convent lands of France produced it as a part of their revenues, 800 a.d. Black mustard is naturally of great importance, the credit of its introduction being, as with other substances of a similar nature, due to the observing “empiricists.” The Bible reference applies alike to Sinapis nigra.
Now leaf mustard is a mustard that has been developed for use as a salad and cooking green, the most famous being the indian mustard green grown extensively in the South. Anyone with a relative in the South has been offered a plate of the mushy greens alongside fried chicken. In Asia the leaf mustards are much more widely used, but we will get to that later.
Enough is enough, a familiar saying, is quite appropriate in the case of mustard, a little mustard guarantees health, a little too much and you can plan to spend the day hanging over the john loosing what you once had. You see, mustard has been used for two things, as a tonic, and secondly as a purging agent. Too much mustard and the stomach goes into revolt and expels the contents. The rule of thumb is, if you’ve taken too much, your stomach will most kindly fill you in.
The mustard has many symbolic representations in literature and myth, not the least of which is the biblical, “If ye had just the faith of the mustard seed”, the list goes on and on. Around the world the seed is considered to be a symbol of good luck along with the four leafed clover.
In the country side of the United States the spring greens of the mustard gone wild are gathered as a spring tonic herb, being one of the first to spring up at the first hint of warmth. Brassica hirta, also known as pale mustard, kedlick, white mustard, is a popular spring green throughout much of the United States .
Black mustard, brassica nigra, provides the seeds collected for the ground product, the country name being warlock. The plant was formerly used to thaw the affections of a woman not clear on her love.
Another mustard, brassica kalber, or charlock, field mustard, kedluck, shellick, hevuck or field kale, is also used as a spring green.
Constipation is an ugly experience, and in the Tennessee hills every mother has a number of tricks under her sleeve to get the elimination process speeding along. One recipe suggests using one tablespoon of ground white mustard seed mixed with a syrup made of four cups water and two cups honey. The mother’s recommendation is to take one tablespoon once a day. The Arabians use a similar concoction for the same problems, not being able to go when you want to.
This cleansing feature is elaborated in the Household Guide Toronto in 1894,
“mustard is an excellent household remedy, in cases of poisoning, when taken in large quantities will produce vomiting. A tablespoon of white mustard seed mingled with syrup, and taken once a day, will act gently on the bowels and is a beneficial remedy in dyspepsia and constipation.”
The old English name for mustard was warlock, which says something about what the common people thought of its nature, purely magical. The English immigrants that ended up in Appalachia have been quite good at maintaining their English past, and the plant is still called warlock in many places.
In 1475 Bjornsson had this to say about our favorite relish, cadlock as it was known to many at the time, “mustard whets a man’s wits, and it loosens the belly, breaks the stones, and purges the urine, if one eats mustard, that strengthens the stomach and lessens its sickness. Crushed mustard in vinegar heals vipers bite. with mustard one may cauterize.”
In 1820 The Materia Medica Edinburgh goes on to say, “a general stimulant, the flur of mustard forms what is called a sinapisne when mixed with equal parts of wheat flour or crumbs of bread, which acts as a powerful rubefacient applied to the soles of the feet in typhoid fever where there is extreme debility.”
Whereas most Westerners are accustomed to getting their dose of mustard in the bottle, in Asia mustard is eaten in the paste form and also equally in the green state. The wild mustard plant has, over the centuries, been developed into hundreds of different forms, all used for health giving. There is such an extensive array of forms of mustard that different mustards are eaten in different seasons. The plants form thick luscious stems delicate and tender unlike any green grown in the western garden. The plants are grown for this succulent stem more than they are for the leaves. One can sample this treat at the Chinese restaurant in a pork and mustard green soup, as it is called.
The mustard plant was carried to Latin America from Spain and it is used in the country parts all over South America to induce vigor. The leaves are laid on skin afflictions, the seed seen as a speedy treatment for liver and spleen complaints. The leaf and seeds are packed with volatile oils that have shown strong anti-microbial influences, wiping out bacteria and fungi. Many skin problems are called by both little creatures and it seems that the leaves of mustard would in fact do them in and cure the problem. Remember, the liver is one organ we want to keep as fit as a fiddle.
“The seed of mustard pounded with vinegar, is an excellent sauce, good to be eaten with any gross meats either fish or flesh, because it doth help digestion, warmeth the stomach, and provoketh appetite.” Did you ever wonder where this idea of putting mustard on a sandwich came from? Did it materialize with the growth of Madison Avenue? No. Mustard as a condiment is a very old notion indeed, dating back to the earliest days in Christian Europe and beyond. The simple wisdom then was that heavy meats were hard to digest and often lead to indigestion, or pains in the gut. Some ingenious person discovered that when heavy meats were served with mustard, the indigestion did not happen, and the custom of serving them with a wipe of the yellow stuff, or really brown stuff, came to pass. Gerard was talking about eating it with meats in 1696, and we still do it today.
“It is given with good success in like manner to such as be short winded, and are stopped in the breast with tough flegme from the head and brain.” Gerard has hit on a rather interesting use of mustard that has been lost, in the treatment of colds, perhaps one of the oldest uses.
Here’s one of my favorite uses of mustard, also coming from our friend Gerard, ” It helpeth those that have their hair pulled off ; it taketh away the blew and black marks that come of bruisings.”
It seems that in Gerard’s day people must have gotten into a good hair pull here and there, to an extent he offers a treatment for the resulting hairlessness. I instantly imagine Middle English lads and maidens out at the town square pulling each other’s hair out in big clumps, laughing and pulling hair wildly. That’s how my imagination works anyhow. Next time somebody pulls all your hair out, just get the mustard bottle out and smear some on your head.
On a more serious note, Gerard wraps up the mustard topic with this statement. “The seed of Thlafpi or treacle mustard eaten, purgeth colour both upward and downward, provoketh fleurs, and breaketh inward aposthumes.” The mustard brings healthy color to the body, and this thought is consistent worldwide. Good coloration indicates a healthy body, the principal notion with mustard.
In the bayou the root doctors had fever sufferers wear boots made of yellow paper stuffed with tallow, snuff and ground mustard.
The same yellow paper smeared with tallow and ground mustard applied to the temples was used to break up a bad head cold.
In the South of the United States mustard still factors into home curing of head colds. One informant tells that mustard leaves scalded and applied to the chest will prevent pneumonia, another suggests plasters made of ground mustard seed. Yet another recommends a hot foot bath seasoned with ground seed for colds and grippe.
From Utah a cure for a cold included three parts mustard, two parts cornstarch and water, the grandmother that laid this one on us insists that if you drink this it will absolutely cure any cold you might have. It might make you spit up, but the cold will go by the way.
Another resident suggested that eating mustard on Good Friday would definitely cause consumption, go figure. The Utah residents also recommended plasters made with the mustard and baking soda, applied to the chest and throat, a piece of linen applied to the skin first to avoid burning the skin, stating the plaster should be left on just long enough to make the skin red, but not long enough to burn.
Aside from colds, mustard has been considered the plant par excellence in treating a bad dose of the rheumatiz, otherwise known as achy bones and general fatigue, sometimes associated with age but not necessarily. The mustard is mixed with mutton fat and applied to the achy part, the plant boiled and the feet soaked in the resulting warm liquid, and teaspoons of the ground powder are mixed with honey and taken internally. This is also an effective treatment for paralysis.
This business of using mustard in foot baths is again found in India , and the Indians reiterated that mustard is good for fevers, rheumatiz in the foot bath, but go on to say, that it is excellent for general fatigue. So the next time you get yourself all worked into a frenzy and feel that special kind of body tired that comes on before a cold sets in, fill the spaghetti pan with hot water and freshly ground mustard, and set the feet down for a spell and keep them there. They go on to suggest that a little mustard be put in the navel at the same time, the double whammy treatment being done just before bed. Once again, preventative medicine.
Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.