Mustard: The greatest among herbs

It grows well in Newfoundland, has a variety of uses, and experimenting with it can make you feel like Alice tumbling down a rabbit hole of culinary delights.

In Newfoundland we don’t always get the weather to grow the food we want without having a greenhouse, which my husband and I don’t have quite yet.

This year, in deciding to explore our outdoor growing options, we chose cold tolerant plants for our greens such as kale, chard and mustard. Our experiences with lettuce have been hit and miss, some years being able to produce an abundance, and others not so much. So this year we decided to go with something hardier.

In May we planted one of our 4×4 garden boxes with mustard seed saved from last year, when we grew the plants in containers. There are many specialty varieties of mustard that you can grow, or if you like to keep your homesteading and gardening costs down, like me, you can simply get mustard seeds from Bulk Barn.

Now well into July, our mustard has been harvested many times starting with collecting early season micro greens then mid season peppery leaves for salads, finishing late season flowers which are a good garden snack or a wonderful addition to a salad. Two weeks ago we pulled out half of the 4×4 box and fed the late season greens to our goats and rabbits. Although flowering mustard greens are tougher, they loved it! We are leaving the rest of the flowers to go to seed so that we can make mustard.

A brief history of mustard

Mustard has a rich and varied history, the word “mustard” comes to us from the Latin word mustum ardens, which translates as “burning must”. The Romans would have mixed mustard with must (unfermented grape juice) to make a culinary paste. Chinese herbalists have used mustard seeds for centuries to treat ailments such as bronchitis, colds, rheumatism, stomach disorders, ulcers, toothaches and abscesses.

Mustard plasters are still used today to treat such things as chronic pain, rheumatism and chest congestion. In the 13th and 14th centuries, apothecaries made a fortune by selling a mixture of ginger, mint and mustard seeds. Husbands would give it to their wives to stimulate their libido. By 1390 regulations were put into place for manufacturing of mustard and heavy fines were extracted from those who tried to produce poor mustard.

Canada is currently the largest exporter of mustard seed in the world and one of the top five producers. In fact Canada and Nepal accounted for 57 per cent of the world production of mustard greens in 2010. In Saskatchewan the domestic total is over 80 per cent and the brown mustard seed used for Dijon primarily comes from there.

Mustard greens

Harvest of mustard greens. Photo by Lisa McBride.
Harvest of mustard greens. Photo by Lisa McBride.

Mustard is famous for its spicy seed, which can be turned into a delicious condiment. But did you know that mustard leaves can be eaten too? They are delicious when they are young and tender carrying a slightly peppered spiced flavour. Mustard greens can be prepared in a salad, sautéed, or made into pesto. Mustard green recipes from around the world can be found like this Asian style, or this more time-consuming but delicious Indian recipe.

Mustard greens are cold-tolerant plants that can handle light frosts; however, they bolt quickly in hot weather. Once the seeds are sown, mustard greens take about two weeks to appear, they can be planted densely and thinned out as you collect. They are an among the world’s healthiest foods rich in Vitamin K (only behind kale and spinach).

A single cup of mustard greens has 524 per cent of your daily vitamin K intake. It also contains 59 per cent vitamin C and 177 per cent vitamin A, per cup. Mustard greens are also an excellent source of vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene.

They also have excellent dietary fiber, making them a perfect food for a healthy colon. Eating mustard greens has been known to help conditions such as asthma, heart disease and menopausal symptoms.

When the mustard is no longer young and tender, we feed it to our rabbits, goats and ducks. They all enjoy the flavor, and it grows so quickly that it is a healthy, renewable resource. We can plant and enjoy the early tender shoots while the animals enjoy the later greens.

Mustard Seeds: to save, to spice or to condiment?

We planted our mustard seed right before the May long weekend and it is now producing 4-foot-high stalks with beautiful little yellow flowers which have a wonderful, spiced vanilla scent. Not only do the flowers make our garden look beautiful but the little yellow flowers are a delicious garnish to the top of salads.

They have another, more important purpose though — to seed.

The seeds of the mustard plant can be used as a spice for tenderizing meats; we often use mustard seed to top our beef roast to wonderful effect. Seeds can also be sprouted for salads, used in pickling, relishes, flavoring curries or sauerkraut.

Mustard seed can be harvested once the seed pods have turned yellowish-brown. They can be shelled by hand or put into a brown paper bag and shook up to release the seeds. Like last year, we hope to harvest the seeds to save for next year’s crop! If you don’t get a chance to harvest your mustard seeds on time don’t worry — they will just fall to the ground and give you a well producing patch for next year.

Making mustard at home will make you feel like you are Alice tumbling down a rabbit hole into a magical world of culinary delight. Mustard as a condiment is incredibly versatile, but simple — liquid and ground mustard seed.

Maple mustard made with Newfoundland maple sryup and mustard seed (see recipe in article). Photo by Lisa McBride.
Maple mustard made with Newfoundland maple sryup and mustard seed. Photo by Lisa McBride.

The yellow mustard we are most familiar with eating on hot dogs, for example, can be made by simply grinding yellow mustard seed, adding turmeric, spice to taste, vinegar and cold water. Yellow mustard seeds produce the mildest flavor, while the brown or black seeds produce a stronger, more pungent flavor. Mustard recipes require a few days of rest before using as they often taste too bitter or hot to the palate; time will mellow the enzymes. Some wonderful mustard recipes include maple mustard, Dijon, whole grain mustard, hot mustard, german mustard, and beer or spirit infused mustard.

You can even use your excess foraged fruit to make cranberry, blueberry, or partridgeberry mustard. Fruit mustards pair well with meats; we use the cranberry mustard to dress our turkey sandwiches. In Italy there is also a dessert condiment called Mostrada, which is candied fruit with mustard syrup.

Mustard is a wonderful crop to grow in your garden. It will provide you with fast-growing, cold-tolerant greens, even in finicky weather like that we’ve had most of this month.

It can be planted numerous times throughout the year, giving you a seemingly never ending supply of fresh greens. The flowers are a beautiful addition to the garden, bringing the early butterflies and bees.

The smells of the flowers are similar to vanilla with a hint of spice. Mustard flowers also add a lovely garnish to any salad. The seeds can be saved to re-sow next year or can be used in cooking as a spice or as a condiment.

Once you step into the fragrant world of growing mustard, its peppery flair will be sure not to disappoint.

For more discussion on mustard, or to read about or share other growing and homesteading tips, visit our facebook page: Backyard Farming & Homesteading NL.

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