White Mustard

This genus of ten species of annuals is native to Europe and Mediterranean regions. Sinapsis alba is widely cultivated for mustard production and as a forage and green manure crop. Mustard was popular among the Romans, and its use spread through their influence to Gaul, then a region of western Europe. Mustard seeds were traditionally sown in punnets of "mustard and cress", but have now been replaced by the hardier rape seed (Brassica napus). The flavor of mustard depends on the kind of seeds used and the method of preparation, which may be with water, unfermented wine, vinegar, or verjuice. The seeds of S. alba are larger than those of Brassica nigra (See, Black Mustard) and are pale brown, with a mild flavor. They are the main ingredient in American mustard and are blended with seeds of B. nigra to make English mustard; they are not used in French mustards. In The English Physician Enlarged (1653), Culpeper recommends mustard for all kinds of complaints, from weak stomachs and cold diseases to toothache, joint pains, skin problems, and a crick in the neck. John Evelyn described mustard as "exceeding hot and mordicant, not only in Seed but Leaf also of incomparable effect to quicken and revive the Spirits; strengthening the Memory, expelling heaviness, preventing the Vertiginous Palsie [giddiness] and is a laudable Cephalic" (Aceteria, a Discourse on Sallets, 1699). Sinapsis comes from the Greek sinapi, mustard.

Annual with rough, hairy leaves, to 15cm (6in) long, which are deeply and irregularly cut, with a large terminal lobe. Yellow, vanilla-scented flowers are produced in summer, followed by beaked pods, to 4.5cm (1¾in) long, containing up to 8 seeds.

Common Name:
White Mustard
Botanical Name:
Sinapsis alba syn. Brassica alba, B. hirta
Native Location:
Mediterranean and Near East; widely naturalized.
Moist soil in sun.
By seed sown in spring.
Seeds are harvested as they ripen, dried, and stored whole, ground, or crushed for oil.
60-80cm (24-32in)
30cm (12in)
Parts Used:
Seeds (bai jie zi), oil
A pungent, stimulant, warming herb that improved digestion and circulation, relieves pain, and is expectorant, diuretic, and antibiotic.
Medicinal Uses:
Externally (usually in mustard bandages, baths, or poultices) for respiratory infections, arthritic joints, chilblains, and skin eruptions. In traditional Chinese medicine, for complaints characterized by cold and torpor; internally for bronchial congestion, coughs and joint pains; externally for painful extremities, neuralgia, sprains, sores, boils, and bruises.
Culinary Uses:
Ground seeds provide the basis for mustards to accompany meats. Whole seeds are an important component of pickles. Seeds are sprouted with those of Lepidium sativum (See, Cress) as "mustard and cress"; the mustard seeds grow more quickly than the cress, so are sown three days later.
Like other mustards, seeds of S. alba contain substances that are extremely irritant to the skin and mucous membranes.
For use by qualified practioners only.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pg 369