Brassica nigra L.

Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)


Black Mustard

                                               April Photo


Plant Characteristics:  Erect annual, five to 25 dm. tall, branching freely, sparsely pubescent or subglabrous; lower leaves 1-2 dm. long, deeply pinnatifid, with large terminal lobe and few small lateral ones; cauline leaves gradually reduced but not clasping, the uppermost pendulous; sepals 3.5-4.5 mm. long; petals bright yellow, 7-8 mm. long, pedicels 2-3 mm. long, erect; siliques appressed, 1-2 cm. long, the beak awl shaped, empty, 1-3 mm. long; seeds ca. 1-1.3 mm. thick, dark red-brown, finely reticulate.


Habitat:  Dry grassy slopes, in grain fields, waste places, most of Calif. Below 1500 m. April-June.


Name:  Brassica, the Latin name for cabbage.  Nigra, black (for seeds).  (Dale 81).


General:  Very common in the study area.  Photographed at 23rd Street, the west side of the Delhi Ditch, the Castaway's Bluffs and the North Star Flats.  (my comments).    Mission fathers spread the seed of B. nigra to mark the trail from one mission to another along the coast.  (Dale 80).      This is the mustard of the ancients and is cultivated in Europe and England.  Originally used as a potherb but today grown mainly for seed from which commercial mustard is derived.  Greens become strong when warm weather sets in so are best gathered when young.  Unopened flower buds can be eaten like broccoli.  To make mustard from the seeds, grind them in a food chopper half and half with commercial powdered mustard, moistening with a mixture of half vinegar and half water.  The most common mustard in Calif.  (Clarke 199-202).     B. nigra is useful as a skin stimulant;  the seeds may be ground or crushed to a flour and applied as a mustard plaster.  (Kirk 39).    Mustard is not only an agreeable spice but a digestant as well.  Mustard poultices for congestion in the chest or the addition of mustard to a hot bath when one is thoroughly chilled are well known cures.  (Coon 244).    It is one of the commonest grain field weeds of Calif. where its bloom yellows hundreds of acres of grain and causes heavy loss.  (Robbins et al. 214).     There were stimulating tonics for that fagged feeling.  You may not be really sick, but sort of run down.  You need a little energy or just a good night's sleep or something.  This is when you would look into the possibilities of the stimulating tonics.  The seeds of Brassica hirta and B. nigra made a stimulant.   A mustard plaster was made from the seeds of B. hirta or B. nigra.   The seeds were ground with flax seeds and mixed with hog fat or mutton tallow.  For a simple cold in the head, grind the seeds of B. nigra or B. hirta and sniff the resultant powder into the nostrils in the manner of snuff.  A common agent to cause vomiting was the ripe seed of B. nigra and B. alba  (Fielder 213,206,197,104).        B. nigra has been shown to be markedly toxic to the common annual grasses such as Wild Oat, Avena fatua, and species of Bromus.  Water-soluble plant toxins are produced from the dead plant material of Black Mustard.  (Fuller 365).      A very superior oil is made from the seed of the  

mustard, which is one of the strongest antiseptics known.  It is especially adapted to the needs of the druggist, because it does not become rancid.  The flour of mustard is now much used by surgeons to render their hands aseptic. (Parsons 143).       Parson's book was published in 1909.  (my comment).      Black mustard seed is stronger than white.  Some folks mix the two types together;  a wide assortment of mustard sauces are made from these seeds.  They are also employed in making pickles and curries.  A favorite pickle recipe:  Mix equal parts of ground Mustard with Sage, and rub on a pork roast before it is put into the oven.  (Meyer 183).     There are 8 species of Brassica established in California.  (Robbins et al. 207).       Delfina Cuero, a Southern Diegueno Indian, made the following comments about B. nigra: "Our name, hamull, means greens, any greens used for food.  We cooked leaves for greens.  The seed of this one were used as medicine.  When ground, boiled, and strained, the liquid is used to wash eyes, for pink eyes especially."  (Shipek 86).       Doves, pheasants, finches, larks and nuthatches are among the birds that search out the seeds. Ground Squirrels and deer eat the plants.  (Clarke 200).      All parts of the plant are toxic if eaten raw in large quantities.  (James 86).


Text Ref:  Hickman, Ed. 406; Munz, Calif. Flora 236; Munz, Flora So. Calif. 277; Roberts 15.

Photo Ref:  Feb 84 No 3 # 9; Oct 83 No 1 # 19; April-May 91 # 5.

Identity: by R. De Ruff, confirmed by B. Hailey.  

First Found:  February 1984.


Computer Ref:  Plant Data 4.  

Have plant specimen.

Last edit 5/17/05.


                   January Photo                                            April Photo