Medical Herbs Catalogue



Family: N.O. Cruciferae The Mustards, Black and White, are both wild herbs growing in waste places in this country, but are cultivated for their seeds, which are valuable medicinally and commercially. They were originally treated as members of a small genus of frequently cultivated European and Asiatic herbs named Sinapis, from the Greek sinapi (mustard), a name used by Theophrastus, but they are now generally included in the Cabbage genus, Brassica.

MUSTARD, WHITE Botanical Name: Brassica alba (BOISS.) Part Used Medicinally Constituents Medicinal Action and Uses Synonym: Sinapis alba (LINN.).
Part Used: Seeds.

The White Mustard, a native of Europe, common in our fields and by roadsides, and also largely cultivated, is an erect annual, about a foot or more in height, with pinnatifid leaves and large, yellow, cruciferousflowers. It closely resembles the Black Mustard, but is smaller. The fruit of the two plants differs considerably in shape, those of the White Mustard being more or less horizontal and hairy, while Black Mustard pods are erect and smooth. The pods of White Mustard are spreading, roundish pods, ribbed and swollen where the seeds are situated, and provided with a very large flattened, swordshaped beak at the end. Each pod contains four to six globular seeds, about 1/12 inch in diameter, yellow both on the surface and internally. The seed-coat, though appearing smooth, on examination with a lens, is seen to be covered with minute pits and to be finely reticulated. The inner seedcoats contain a quantity of mucilage, with which the seeds become coated when soaked in water, hence they are often employed to absorb the last traces of moisture in bottles which are not chemically dry. The cotyledons of the seeds contain oil and give a pungent but inodorous emulsion when rubbed with water.

The young seedling plants of White Mustard are commonly raised in gardens for salad, the seeds being usually sown with those of the garden cress and germinating with great rapidity. They may be grown all the year round, the seed readily vegetating under a hand-glass even in cold weather, if the ground is not absolutely frozen.

'When in the leaf,' wrote John Evelyn in 1699, in his Acetaria, 'Mustard, especially in young seedling plants, is of incomparable effect to quicken and revive the spirits, strengthening the memory, expelling heaviness, . . . besides being an approved antiscorbutic.'

In Gerard's time, a century earlier, White Mustard was not very common in England.

Both Mustards afford excellent fodder for sheep, and as they can be sown late in the summer are often used for this purpose after the failure of a turnip or rape crop, the White Mustard being more frequently employed, as it is less pungent, though equally nutritious. White Mustard makes a good catch crop, being ready for consumption on the land by sheep eight or nine weeks after being sown. It may be sown in southern counties after an early corn crop, about a peck of seed being sown broadcast to the acre. The plants are hoed sometimes to a distance of about 9 inches apart, if required for seed.

As green manure, both kinds of Mustard are employed, but the White Mustard is preferred for this purpose by English farmers, the seed being sown in August and September, and when the plants have attained a good size, about two months after sowing, they are ploughed in. Besides affording useful manure in itself, this green manure helps to prevent the waste of nitrates, which instead of being washed away in drainage water, which would probably happen if the soil were bare, are stored up in the growing plant.

The seeds of the Mustards retain their vitality for a great length of time when buried in the ground, so that after the plants have once been grown anywhere, it is difficult to get rid of them. It has been noticed in the Isle of Ely that whenever a trench was made, White Mustard sprang up from the newlyturned earth.

Part Used Medicinally: The dried, ripe seeds are alone official. They possess rubefacient properties, and are mixed with Black Mustard seeds to produce mustard flour for preparing mustard poultices. The powder is not infrequently adulterated with farinaceous substances, coloured by turmeric.

Constituents: The epidermal cells of the seed coat of White Mustard seeds contain mucilage, and the cotyledons contain from 23 to 26 per cent of a fixed oil, which consists of the glycerides of oleic, stearic and erucic or brassic acids. The seeds also contain the crystalline glucoside Sinalbin and the enzyme Myrosin, which unite to form a volatile oil, called Sinalbin Mustard Oil, used for various purposes, though not so pungent as that of Black Mustard. This oil cannot be obtained by distillation, but is extracted by boiling alcohol after the seed has been deprived of its fixed oil. When cold, the volatile oil possesses only a faint, anise-like odour, but a pungent odour is given off on heating. The cake, after the oil is expressed, is pungent and therefore not well fitted for cattle food, but is used for manure.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The seeds when ground form a pungent powder, but it is much inferior in strength to that prepared from the black-seeded species.

They have been employed medicinally from very early times. Hippocrates advised their use both internally and as a counter irritating poultice, made with vinegar. They have been administered frequently in disorders of the digestive organs. White Mustard seeds were at one time quite a fashionable remedy as a laxative, especially for old people, the dose being 1/2 OZ. in the entire state, but from the danger of their retention in the intestines, they are not very safe in large quantities, having in several cases caused inflammation of the stomach and intestinal canal.

An infusion of the seeds will relieve chronic bronchitis and confirmed rheumatism, and for a relaxed sore throat a gargle of Mustard Seed Tea will be found of service.

MUSTARD, BLACK Black Mustard
(Brassica nigra)
Click on graphic for larger image Botanical Name: Brassica nigra (LINN.), Sinapis nigra (LINN.) Description History Cultivation Constituents Medicinal Action and Uses Preparations Synonym: Brassica sinapioides (Roth.).
Part Used: Seeds.
Habitat: The Black Mustard grows throughout Europe, except in the north-eastern parts, also in South Siberia, Asia Minor and Northern Africa, and is naturalized in North and South America. It is largely cultivated in England, Holland, Italy, Germany and elsewhere for the sake of the seed, used partly as a condiment, and partly for its oil.

Description: It is an erect annual, 3 feet or more in height, with smaller flowers than the White Mustard. The spear-shaped, upper leaves, linear, pointed, entire and smooth, and the shortly-beaked pods, readily distinguish it from the former species. The smooth, erect flattened pods, each provided with a short slender beak, contain about ten to twelve dark reddish-brown or black seeds, which are collected when ripe and dried. They are about half the size of White Mustard seeds, but possess similar properties. The seedcoat is thin and brittle and covered with minute pits. Like the White Mustard, the seeds are inodorous, even when powdered, though a pungent odour is noticeable when moistened with water, owing to the formation of volatile oil of Mustard, which is colourless or pale yellow, with an intensely penetrating odour and a very acrid taste.

History: The ancient Greek physicians held this plant in such esteem for the medicinal use of its seeds that they attributed its discovery to Æsculapius. When it was first employed as a condiment is unknown, but it was most likely used in England by the Saxons. Probably the Romans, who were great eaters of mustard, pounded and steeped in new wine, brought the condiment with them to Britain. Mustard gets its name from mustum (the must), or newly-fermented grape juice, and ardens (burning). It was originally eaten whole, or slightly crushed. Gerard in 1623 says that: 'the seede of Mustard pounded with vinegar is an excellent sauce, good to be eaten with any grosse meates, either fish or flesh, because it doth help digestion, warmeth the stomache and provoketh appetite.' Tusser mentions its garden cultivation and domestic use in the sixteenth century, and Shakespeare alludes more than once to it: Tewkesbury mustard is referred to in Henry IV. The herbalist Coles, writing in 1657, says: 'In Glostershire about Teuxbury they grind Mustard seed and make it up into balls which are brought to London and other remote places as being the best that the world affords. All mustard was formerly made up into balls with honey or vinegar and a little cinnamon, to keep till wanted, when they were mixed with more vinegar. It was sold in balls till Mrs. Clements, of Durham, at the close of the eighteenth century, invented the method of preparing mustard flour, which long went under the name of Durham Mustard. John Evelyn recommends for mustard-making 'best Tewkesbury' or the 'soundest and weightiest Yorkshire seeds,' and tells us that the Italians in making mustard as a condiment mix orange and lemon peel with the black seed. At Dijon, where the best Continental mustard is made, the condiment is seasoned with various spices and savouries, such as Anchovies, Capers, Tarragon and Catsup of Walnuts or Mushrooms.

The Black Mustard is said to have been employed by the Romans as a green vegetable. The young leaves may be eaten as salad in place of those of the White variety, but are more pungent.

The Mustard Tree of Scripture is supposed by some authorities to be a species of Sinapis, closely resembling the Black Mustard, but as the latter never attains the dimensions of a tree, it has been conjectured that the plant in question is the Khardal of the Arabs, a tree abounding near the Sea of Galilee, which bears numerous branches and has small seeds, having the flavour and properties of Mustard.

Cultivation: Mustard is sown in spring, either broadcast or in drills, a foot or more apart, and ripens towards the end of summer, when, after it has stood in sheaves to dry, the seed is threshed out and dried on trays by gentle artificial heat. The crop is very liable to injury from wet. It is grown for market on rich, alluvial soil, chiefly in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. In Durham, the cultivation of Mustard of an excellent quality has been pursued on a considerable scale for the last two hundred years. Before grinding, the husk is usually removed, the seeds are then passed between rollers and afterwards reduced to powder in a mortar. This is the system invented by Mrs. Clements, of Durham. The so-called London Mustard is almost always adulterated and many samples consist of little but flour, coloured with turmeric and flavoured with pepper.

The only seeds resembling those of Black Mustard are Colchicum seeds, which are larger, rougher, harder, bitter and not pungent.

Constituents: The virtues of Black Mustard depend on an acrid, volatile oil contained in the seeds, combined with an active principle containing much sulphur. The acridity of the oil is modified in the seeds by being combined with another fixed oil of a bland nature, which can be separated.

The epidermal cells of the seed-coat contain much less mucilage than those of White Mustard seeds, but the cotyledons of Black Mustard seeds contain from 31 to 33 per cent of a fixed oil, which consists of the glycerides of Oleic, Stearic and Erucic or Brassic and Behenic acids. The seeds also contain the crystalline glucoside Sinigrin and the enzyme Myrosin. These substances are stored in separate cells. When brought together in water, the volatile Oil of Mustard is formed. It is distilled from the seeds that have been deprived of most of the fixed oil and macerated in water for several hours, and contains from go to 99 per cent of the active principle, Allyl isothiocyanate, which is used as a counter irritant. It is on account of the abundant sulphur contained by this active principle that mustard discolours silver spoons left in it, black sulphuret of silver being formed.

Neither White nor Black Mustard seeds contain starch when ripe.

It was formerly supposed that Black Mustard was deficient in the enzyme Myrosin, and White Mustard was added to correct this and to secure the maximum pungency. It has been proved, however, that Black Mustard contains sufficient of the enzyme, and that no increase in the yield of the volatile oil is effected by adding White Mustard. The main object in using both Black and White Mustard for preparing mustard flour, is probably the production of a commercial article with a better flavour than could be obtained otherwise.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Irritant, stimulant, diuretic, emetic. Mustard is used in the form of poultices for external application near the seat of inward inflammation, chiefly in pneumonia, bronchitis and other diseases of the respiratory organs. It relieves congestion of various organs by drawing the blood to the surface, as in head affections, and is of service in the alleviation of neuralgia and other pains and spasms.

Mustard Leaves, used instead of poultices, consist of the mustard seeds, deprived of fixed oil, but retaining the pungency-producing substances and made to adhere to paper.

Oil of Mustard is a powerful irritant and rubefacient, and when applied to the skin in its pure state, produces almost instant vesication, but when dissolved in rectified spirit, or spirit of camphor, or employed in the form of the Compound Liniment of Mustard of the British Pharmacopoeia, is a very useful application for chilblains, chronic rheumatism, colic, etc.

Hot water poured on bruised Black Mustard seeds makes a stimulating footbath and helps to throw off a cold or dispel a headache. It also acts as an excellent fomentation.

Internally, Mustard is useful as a regular and mild aperient, being at the same time an alterative. If a tablespoonful of Mustard flour be added to a glass of tepid water, it operates briskly as a stimulating and sure emetic. In cases of hiccough, a teaspoonful of Mustard flour in a teacupful of boiling water is effective. The dose may be repeated in ten minutes if needed.

The bland oil expressed from the hulls of the seeds, after the flour has been sifted away, promotes the growth of the hair and may be used with benefit externally for rheumatism.

Whitehead's Essence of Mustard is made with spirits of turpentine and rosemary, with which camphor and the farina of Black Mustard seed are mixed. This oil is very little affected by frost or the atmosphere, and is therefore specially prized by clock-makers and makers of instruments of precision.

Parkinson says that Mustard 'is of good use, being fresh, for Epilepticke persons . . . if it be applyed hot inwardly and outwardly.' Culpepper considered Mustard good for snake poison if taken in time, and tells us that mustard seed powder, mixed with honey in balls, taken every morning fasting, will clear the voice, and that: 'the drowsy forgetful evil, to use it both inwardly and outwardly, to rub the nostrils, forehead and temples, to warm and quicken the spirits . . . the decoction of the seeds ... resists the malignity of mushrooms.... Being chewed in the mouth it oftentimes helps the tooth-ache. It is also used to help the falling off the hair. The seed bruised, mixed with honey, and applied, or made up with wax, takes away the marks and black and blue spots of bruises or the like . . . it helps also the crick in the neck....' Preparations: Linament, B.P.
Mustard flour is considered a capital antiseptic and sterilizing agent, as well as an excellent deodorizer.

MUSTARD, FIELD Botanical Name: Sinapis arvensis
Synonyms: Charlock. Brassica Sinapistrum.
Part Used: Seeds.

Charlock is a troublesome weed on arable land throughout England, growing so abundantly that it can at a distance be mistaken for a legitimate crop. It grows from 1 to 2 feet high, the stems upright, branched, grooved and often clothed with short rough hairs. The leaves are rough, unequally cut and serrated, and the flowers, which are yellow and large, are followed by nearly erect, angular, knotty pods, longer than their flattened conical beak.

It is an annual, flowering in May and June, and may easily be eradicated if pulled up before seeding. The seeds form a good substitute for Mustard, but are not equal to them in quality. They yield a good burning oil, which was much commended by Dodoens, as a preferable substitute for the 'Traine Oyle.

Charlock varies in appearance in different plants and under varying conditions of growth, that growing in corn is taller and less branched than when growing by the roadside. It is capable of being used when boiled as a green vegetable, and is so employed in Sweden and Ireland. It is much liked by cattle and especially by sheep, and might be a useful fodder plant, though is usually regarded merely as a noxious intruder.

Spraying with 4 per cent solution of copper sulphate or 15 per cent solution of iron sulphate is employed for the destruction of Charlock in cornfields. It requires 40 gallons of solution for each acre. The weed should not exceed 3 inches in height at the time of spraying, or the remedy may be ineffectual.

(Brassica napus)
Click on graphic for larger image Botanical Name: Brassica napus Synonym: Cole Seed.
Habitat: It is not indigenous to this country, though almost naturalized in parts.

Rape is cultivated for the sake of the oil pressed from its seeds, the refuse being used to make oil-cake, or rape-cake, for feeding cattle.

It is frequently grown instead of White Mustard as a crop, being rather milder in flavour. When grown for feeding cattle, it should be sown about the middle of June, 6 or 8 lb. of seed to the acre. The plants are thinned by hoeing when young, and by the middle of November are ready for the cattle to feed on.

The seeds are also sown in gardens for winter and spring salads, as it is one of the small salad herbs, though little used.

It is also cultivated in cottage gardens for spring greens - the tops being cut first, and afterwards the side shoots.

MUSTARD, COMMON HEDGE Botanical Name: Sisymbrium officinale
Synonyms: Singer's Plant. St. Barbara's Hedge Mustard. Erysimum officinale.
Part Used: Whole plant.

The Common Hedge Mustard grows by our roadsides and on waste ground, where it is a common weed, with a peculiar aptitude for collecting and retaining dust. The blackish-green stalks, slender but tough, are branched and rough, the leaves hairy, deeplylobed, with their points turned backwards, the terminal lobe larger. The yellow flowers are small and insignificant, placed at the top of the branches in long spikes, flowering by degrees throughout July. The pods are downy, close pressed to the stem and contain yellow, acrid seeds.

This plant is named by the French the 'Singer's Plant,' it having been considered up to the time of Louis XIV an infallible remedy for loss of voice. Racine, in writing to Boileau, recommends him to try the syrup of Erysimum in order to be cured of voicelessness. A strong infusion of the whole plant used to be taken in former days for all diseases of the throat.

Flaxweed Tansymustard
(Descurainia sophia
printed as Sisymbrium sophia )
Click on graphic for larger image FLIXWEED Botanical Name: Sisymbrium sophia (LINN.) Another plant of the same genus, Sisymbrium Sophia, a more slender plant, bears the name of Flixweed, or Fluxweed, from having been given in cases of dysentery. It was called by the old herbalists Sophia Chirugorum, 'The Wisdom of Surgeons,' on account of its vulnerary properties.

The juice, mixed with an equal quantity of honey or vinegar, has been recommended for chronic coughs and hoarseness, and ulcerated sore throats. A strong infusion of the herb has proved excellent in asthma, and the seeds formed a special remedy for sciatica.

Chemically, the Hedge Mustard contains a soft resin and a sulphuretted volatile oil. Combined with Vervain it is supposed to have been Count Mattaei's famous remedy, Febrifugo.

MUSTARD, GARLIC Botanical Name: Sisymbrium alliaria
Synonyms: Jack-by-the-Hedge. Sauce Alone.
Parts Used: Seeds, herbs.

Garlic Mustard is an early flowering hedge plant, with delicate green leaves and snowwhite flowers. The leaves are broadly heartshaped, stalked, with numerous broad teeth. The whole plant emits when bruised a penetrating scent of Garlic, from which it derives its Latin and English names.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The leaves used to be taken internally as a sudorific and deobstruent, and externally were applied antiseptically in gangrenes and ulcers. The juice of the leaves taken alone or boiled into a syrup with honey is found serviceable in dropsy.

Country people at one time used the plant in sauces, with bread and butter, salted meat and with lettuce in salads, hence it acquired also the name of Sauce Alone. The herb, when eaten as a salad, warms the stomach and strengthens the digestive faculties.

When cows eat it, it gives a disagreeable flavour to the milk.

The seeds, when snuffed up the nose, excite sneezing.

MUSTARD TREACLE HEDGE Botanical Name: Erysimum Cheirantholdes
Synonyms: Wormseed. Treacle Wormseed.
Part Used: Seeds.

The Treacle Hedge Mustard has round stalks about a foot high, quite entire, or only slightly toothed, lanceolate leaves and small yellow flowers with whitish sepals, produced at the tops of the branches. The blackishbrown seeds are produced on each side of a pouch parted in the middle, about eighteen to each cell. The seeds are intensely bitter, and have been used by country people as a vermifuge, hence the second name of Wormseed or Treacle Wormseed. The seeds have also been given in obstructions of the intestines, and in rheumatism and jaundice with success. When taken in small doses they are purgative, but care must be taken not to administer in too large doses.

This plant flowers from May to August, and is a native of most parts of Europe, though it is not very common in England.

The Hedge Mustards and Garlic Mustard were all formerly allocated to the same genus to which this plant belongs, Erysimum.

Another species, Erysimum Orientale (Hare's Ear Treacle Mustard), with smooth, entire leaves and cream-coloured flowers, grows on some parts of the coast of Essex, Suffolk and Sussex.

MUSTARD, MITHRIDATE Botanical Name: Thlaspi arvense Synonym: Pennycress.
Part Used: Seeds.

Mithridate Mustard, Thlaspi arvense, grows higher than Treacle Mustard; the leaves are small and narrower, smooth, toothed, arrow-shaped at the base. The flowers are small and white, growing on long branches, the seed-vessels form a round pouch, flat, with very broad wings, earning for the plant its other name of Pennycress.

It was formerly an ingredient in the Mithridate confection, an elaborate preparation used as an antidote to poison, but no longer used in medicine.