Botanical Name: Brassia nigra; Brassica juncea

Family: Cruciferae

Hindi Name: Sarson/Rai

Black mustard is probably endemic in the southern Mediterranean region, but has been cultivated since thousands of years, therefore numerous cultivars are found. It is cultivated in most temperate climates. It is now grown also in certain tropical and sub-tropical regions as a cold weather crop. In India, it is extensively cultivated in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.

Mustard, usually used in seed, paste or powdered form, is a known spice since ages. This spice was used as a medicinal plant by Pythagoras and Hippocrates, while the Romans ground the seeds with wine to produce a sauce, like today's mustard. In India and Denmark, it was believed that spreading mustard seeds around the exterior of the home would keep out evil spirits. The ancient Chinese considered mustard an aphrodisiac.

The black mustard seeds are globular and about one mm in diameter. The brown mustard seeds are larger, up to 2 mm, and somewhat less dark. The dried seeds do not have any pungent taste after chewing. Roasted seeds have a rich, nutty odour.

Although the pungency of black mustard is slightly stronger than that of brown mustard, brown mustard is the dominating quality in the European market, as, unlike black mustard, it can be harvested by machines. The world's harvest of black and brown mustard seeds is only to a small part used for the production of mustard paste. White mustard paste is preferable to the black one as its pungency lasts longer.

Black mustard seeds contain a glycoside called sinigrin and an enzyme, myrosin, which, on being crushed and mixed with water, produces a volatile oil. This oil is responsible for the bitter, pungent taste and smell. Black mustard is more important as a spice and oil plant, especially in India.

Indian mustard oil is really essential for the authentic flavours of several Indian regional cuisines, particularly those of Bengal, Kashmir, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Goa. In both Bengal and Bangladesh, use of mustard oil is very widespread. It is the preferred cooking medium, which contributes a characteristic flavour.

The composition of the black and brown mustards is as follows:

Black Brown
Moisture 7.6% 6.2%
Nitrogenous substance 29.1% 24.6%
Nitrogen free extract 19.2% 20.4%
Fibre 11% 8%
Ash 5% 5.3%

Black mustard is used in the preparation of bath mustard, mustard bran and mustard flour. In Europe, the oil is used as a lubricant and a liniment, for making soap, and for burning. In India, mustard is used in pickles and curries. Mustard is irritant, stimulant, emetic and diuretic.

It is used as a poultice to relieve acute local pain, e.g., pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. It is useful in easing congestion of the organs, headaches, spasms and neuralgia. A hot infusion of the seeds is a stimulating foot bath. Mustard flour, taken internally, acts as an emetic. Mustard is a very good antiseptic and sterlising agent and deodoriser.

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