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Black Mustard, the pretty boy of invasive weeds, is now blooming like crazy

Black mustard in Silver Lake | Dan Gershon

By BRENDA REES

The California super bloom of wildflowers is winding down, but you may see an increase of golden yellow bushes lining hiking trails, filling vacant lots and populating the roadsides and hillsides. These stalky plants with gray-green leaves and branches of yellow blooms add color to the landscape, but there’s more to their story. Here’s what you need to know about this plant:

Q. So, what is it? A wildflower?
A. No, this is black mustard, Brassica nigra, an annual non-native, invasive herb that has been naturalized in the wild here in California. Currently, this highly invasive plant – which can grow as tall as 6 feet – is taking advantage of all the winter rains producing numerous plants. They are quick germinators and can grow in degraded areas.

Photo by Brenda Rees


Q. Where did it come from?

A. The plant originated in Eurasia. It’s unsure how it got here. One theory says that the Spanish brought it here as a spice crop. Another suggests that was introduced to the U.S. as a contaminate in cereal grain. Around the world, it is cultivated mainly for its seeds.

Q. Why is it so bad?
A. According to the California Invasive Plant Council, this mustard produces allelopthic chemicals that prevent the germination of native plants. Additionally, fields of mustard transform native habitats into annual grasslands which can increase the frequency of fires in chaparral and coastal sage scrub.

Q. How long does it bloom?
A. Black mustard typically produces its bright yellow 4-petaled flowers from March to June.

Photo by Brenda Rees

Q. How do we get rid of them?
A. It’s impossible. The best we can do is to keep them under control. A single plant may produce thousands of seeds. Deeply buried seeds can survive for 50 years or more. Plants can be hand pulled or removed by tools before they seed. In theory, yearly manual removal can eventually deplete the seedbank. Burning them increases their resiliency as seeds on the soil during a grassland fire are not likely to be killed by the heat of the burn.

Q. Can we eat them?
A. Mustard greens are highly nutritious and can be finely chopped and added to salads or cooked. Young mustard leaves are tenderer than older ones; the flowers too are edible, but can be allergenic to some people.

In the Middle East, the plant is cultivated as a primary source for mustard seeds that are used to make the condiment sauce, table mustard. Seeds must be harvested by hand or mechanically before they fully ripen. Seeds can also be used to season pickles, curries, etc.

Medicinal uses for black mustard abound, although they can produce allergic skin reactions in some people.

Overall, mustard leaves are considered good nutrition in the fight against cancer. Mustard seeds have antibacterial properties and have been used to treat rheumatism. Hot water poured over bruised seeds is said to be a good stimulant as a foot bath as well as good for colds and headaches. Seeds swallowed whole when mixed with molasses act as a laxative.

How have you used black mustard? Send us your mustard recipes and/or medical uses.

Thanks to Dana Morawitz at the Cal Invasive Plant Council for helping with this story.

Elysian Park | The Eastsider

Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.

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5 comments

  1. Apparently they can make biodiesel out of it too

  2. Great story! Saw this covering hillsides in Montebello today and was wondering about it. Never would I ever have thought it was mustard.

  3. Thanks for this info , I always had the impression it was a native plant. I have seen it all my life and just assume it was native.

  4. Last week I mustered up the energy to go hiking in Griffith Park, and I saw a lot of this plant.

  5. I’ve been eating this for all my life. I just pick and eat the flowers – tastes like mustard!

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