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Other Names

Sinapis alba / Brassica alba - Yellow or white mustard

Sinapis nigra - Black mustard 

French: moutarde



Mediterranean and Middle East, though the Chinese have been familiar with this plant for over 3000 years.

From the Latin Mustum ardens meaning burning must, since the Romans dissolved crushed mustard seeds in grape must (unfermented grape juice) producing a very flavourful mustard. The word became Mwstardd in Celtic and moustarde in Old French, crossing the Channel to become "mustard" in English. The Italians have retained the Latin name Sinapis. Modern French: moutarde

A Short History of Mustard

 With a few spoonfuls of mustard, a cold and lazy woman can become an ideal wife.

Pliny the Elder

If mustard is not quite as ancient as the world itself, it was nevertheless part of the oldest Mediterranean cultures. Prized by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for the way it enhanced fish and meats, it was found on every Roman table in the first century AD. The greatest philosophers of the era attributed it with an ability to enflame the senses… thus making it very popular!

This belief survived for centuries, and was still current much later in Denmark. Apothecaries made a fortune by preparing a concoction made of mustard seeds, ginger and mint which love-starved husbands gave to their wives in the hope of making them more receptive to their amorous advances.

Though mustard never really gained huge popularity in northern Europe, sprinkling a handful of mustard seeds around was still seen as an effective way to protect the house from evil spirits - a belief that extended all the way to India.

But let's return to the time of the Romans. In ancient Rome, Apicius was already creating mustard-based sauces to serve with fried doves, boiled birds like duck, crane and ostrich, and of course boiled sausages. When the Romans invaded Gaul, they brought with them a taste for mustard; later on, the emperor Charlemagne recommended growing this spice in all his estates general, particularly in the gardens adjoining the monasteries on the outskirts of Paris.

Mustard-growing gradually gained favour in Germany as well. There was a whispered legend in that country that if a woman sewed mustard seed into her wedding dress, she would be assured of wearing the pants in the family throughout her marriage! Mustard arrived in England in the 12th century.

A war without fire
Is like a sausage without mustard
declared a medieval king of warring England

In Spain, the consumption of mustard also began with the arrival of the Roman legions; Vasco de Gama sailed off into unknown waters to discover the passage to India with a barrel of mustard on board. Mustard is found everywhere: it is grown as part of crop rotations for forage, and is used as a vegetable and for its oil.

The lighter side of mustard
If mustard has become almost as much a part of our daily meals as sugar and salt, it has still not become commonplace in the customs of some regions and countries. One day, in the far reaches of Estonia, two peasants sat down at a table in a hotel restaurant in the capital to celebrate the profit they had pocketed that day at the horse market. As they were reliving some of their more lucrative trades, they saw some gentlemen at a neighbouring table spooning a yellow cream from a small crock, parsimoniously dabbing a little on each bite of beef that they brought to their mouths. "That must be very expensive for them to be using it so sparingly," said one of the two peasants. "Let's show them that country folk know how to live handsomely," replied the second. "We'll order a whole bowlful!" "Why not a bowl each?" countered the first. "Let's eat like worldly men!" Unsuspecting, but proud as peacocks, they dug right into their bowls of mustard with a spoon. Soon their eyes were watering and their throats burning. Even the mugs of beer could not ease the heat. "Never again!" exclaimed the peasants. "The food of fashionable men isn't made for decent folk."

Having your head plunged into a barrel of mustard can make you hot-headed!
In Scandinavian countries, the Danish followed the culinary habits of the nobles and continued to use mustard after the Swedish conquest. As for Norway, it had its first encounter with this condiment in an atmosphere of violence. In 1234, the Orkney Islands had fallen into anarchy and the Vikings, biding their time on the Isle of Man, quickly set sail for this tumultuous archipelago. As soon as they disembarked, however, they were captured by the Earl of Conway. The lord used some strange strategies that have gone down into the annals of maritime history, since instead of taking the invaders prisoner, he rolled out casks of mustard onto the beach, one for each Viking, and stuck them all head first into a barrel. Maybe this is the origin of the French saying "La moutarde me monte au nez" - literally "The mustard is getting up my nose," meaning "My temper is flaring up." Whatever the origin, having your head stuck into a barrel of mustard will undoubtedly make you hot-headed!

There is no mustard except at Dijon…
wrote Jehan Millot, canon of Lille in the 14th century.

In medieval France, it was not uncommon to see children armed with pots heading for the busy market street to fetch wine or mustard while their mother stayed home to watch over the other children and the pot simmering over the fire. Inseparably associated with the city of Dijon, mustard held pride of place on the table of the Dukes of Burgundy, those bon vivants who loved it for its taste, as well as its digestive and antiseptic properties. They would even regularly send barrels of it to the court of the French king. Louis XIV never went anywhere without his mustard pot, according to contemporary accounts, and we might add, without tarnishing his image too much, that the Sun King favoured a mustard colour for his clothing. Earlier, in 1382 Duke Philip the Bold had inscribed on the city of Dijon's coat of arms "Moult Me Tarde," meaning "I ardently desire." The motto soon appeared on all pots of mustards. Mustard-making was becoming increasingly refined, and in 1390 its production was regulated: anyone caught making an inferior product and passing it off as mustard was subject to harsh penalties. Two centuries later, the corporation of vinegar and mustard makers of Dijon was formed, under the patronage of St. Vincent, with the degrees of master, companion and apprentice. Jurors appointed at the beginning of each year were responsible for seeing that the statutes and ordinances laid down in 1634 were respected in order to protect the profession against frauds and poor-quality products. The creativity of the vinegar and mustard makers led to the wide variety that we know today. The title "moutarde de Dijon" is reserved for prepared mustards made with "bolted" mustard (meaning that the tegument or seed coat has been removed by sieving), or sifted mustard whose content of total dry extractives (salt and sugar included) must not be less than 28%; the level of tegument not removed by the bolting process must not exceed 2%.

Grand Moutardier - a honorary title that came from a Pope's love of mustard

In the 14th century in Avignon, the city of the popes, John XXII became so fond of this condiment that he created the post of "Pope's First Mustard-Maker." In the 16th century, Pope Clement VI, a native of the Limousin region, nicknamed "The Magnificent" because of the pomp of his pontifical court in Avignon, suddenly remembered while at table one day that the region of Roziers-d'Egletons in Corrèze, his birthplace, made a unique purple mustard. He sent an urgent order, summoning a mustard-maker to Avignon to prepare the famous mustard for him. Messire Jaubertie performed his duty so well that he was named "Grand Moutardier du Pape."

And then there is Rabelais' Gargantua, the legendary giant of the 16th century, who required four servants to provide him with mustard…. He started off his meal with a few dozen hams and smoked beef tongues, sausages and other such things, while four of his men threw shovelful after shovelful of mustard into his mouth.

Mustard - Medicinal Properties


Mustard was one of the earliest products to be used in folk medicine. In the Middle Ages, war wounds were often treated by applying a layer of Maille mustard mixed with crayfish powder.

During the great yellow fever epidemics along the banks of the Mississippi that brought about thousands of deaths, mustard sold for the price of gold. Stocks soon ran low in the supply stores since it was believed that mustard offered protection against the terrible illness.

In the 17th century, the vinegar maker Maille distributed mustard to the poor of Dijon to help protect them from chillblains.

Even in the 6th century BC, the Greek scientist Pythagoras recognized the importance of mustard poultices as an antidote to scorpion bites. It was thought that it takes one demon to drive another demon out, and mustard, by irritating the skin, expelled the poison.

Similarly, during the Italian Renaissance, when poison was considered the perfect method for doing away with anyone who stood in the way of love, money or honour, mustard was used as an emetic. It was taken if stomach cramps were felt after eating or drinking, since you never knew if some malevolent hand had added a few drops of a concoction intended to send you to your eternal reward. Although most unpleasant to take, this remedy nonetheless saved many lives and is still used in traditional medicine.

A century after Pythagoras, Hippocrates prescribed a vast number of mustard-based antidotes.

In the Faroe Islands, a plaster was made with powdered mustard seeds and placed on the cheek to alleviate toothache. The oil contained in the mustard seed is edible but it is mostly used in making pharmaceutical products, soap, leather and wool articles.

And Present…

    Antiseptic (mustard plaster)

    Aperitive (plain)

      it stimulates the appetite when served before a meal

    Against bronchitis (mustard plaster)

      as well as asthma and pneumonia

      In the old days, as soon as anyone showed the least sign of a cold, neuralgia or bruise, our grandmothers would immediately smear us with vaseline or another greasy substance, followed by a layer of mustard purée (made from leaves and stems), and would then cover it by taping on a layer of gauze and leave it for several hours. The greasy layer is necessary because applying mustard directly to the skin can cause irritations and even a kind of burn.

    Against sore throats (gargle)

    Disinfectant (mustard plaster)

    Digestive (plain)

      it facilitates digestion by promoting the secretion of gastric juices if used in small quantities as a condiment.

    Emetic (vomiting agent)

      Preparation: add 1 tsp. dry mustard to a glass of warm water and drink it all. It's unpleasant but the effect is guaranteed.

    Obtundent (pain-reliever) (mustard plaster)

    Stimulant (bath)

      soothes tired feet - just add a handful of crushed mustard seeds to a small tub of warm water and soak your feet for about 10 minutes. They'll feel noticeably better.

N.B. MSComm has gathered this information from preventative and natural medicine and from the popular traditions of various countries for your information and enjoyment, but MSComm declines all responsibility as to its use and does not intend that it be used as a substitute for conventional medicine.


Mustard plaster

  1. combine 25 g dry mustard with 25 g bran;
  2. add a few drops of water to make a paste
  3. apply to the chest to treat bronchitis or to any painful area, after having first applied a layer of salve


  1. infuse a few mustard seeds in half a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes;
  2. strain and use to gargle.



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