Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)
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
Dry grassy slopes, in grain fields, waste places, most of Calif. Below
1500 m. April-June.
Brassica, the Latin name for
black (for seeds). (Dale 81).
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
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
book was published in 1909. (my
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.
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.
All parts of the plant are toxic if eaten raw in large quantities. (James 86).
Hickman, Ed. 406; Munz, Calif. Flora 236; Munz, Flora
So. Calif. 277; Roberts 15.
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