t2

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wild Mustard- Foraged Food

Wild mustard is my favorite vegetable. It grows everywhere around me and from what I've been reading, it grows all over the world, in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australia, etc. Wild mustard is easy to identify and has no poisonous look a likes. It's very versatile, flavorful, and uber-nutritious. Best of all, I can get this organic vegetable free of charge, just by taking a few steps out my front door.
I've been cooking wild mustard for my family for a while already, and since I've gone on my no shopping challenge, it has been a staple in my household, finding its way into at least one or two dishes per week. Even so, I was waiting a while to post this post, as I knew that what I was eating was edible and in the brassica family, but the specific species was a mystery. Eventually I discovered the identity of my mystery plant, and only now felt comfortable enough to post about it.

There are many plants in the brassica family, including broccoli, cabbage, kale, rape (canola), turnip, and mustard. To my knowledge, there are no poisonous brassicas, though some may proclaim broccoli and turnips inedible.
The mustard branch of the family is so expansive and with so many varieties that it would be impossible to name them all. Each subspecies varies from the next in minutest amounts, but knowing which specific type you have isn't necessary, as they're all used and prepared the same way. The varieties of which I am aware are broccoli raab (also known as rapini, cime di rapa, and wild rape), shortpod mustard, black mustard, and white mustard (among others), and for the longest time I had been picking the first 3 types, not knowing that they were all different species, the differences were so minute.

From what I've learned, wild mustard has been feeding the poor in my region for centuries, and according to the locals here, eating wild mustard on a regular basis will ensure that you never get sick. No, it's not just folk-lore; wild mustard has cancer fighting agents, as well as being a good source of Vitamins A, C, D, and K, folate, potassium, calcium, iron, fiber, phosphorous, and even iron. A real power food!

How do you identify wild mustard?


Mustard plants are most easily identified by their small and plentiful yellow flowers, growing in clusters atop a long stem.


If you look carefully at this picture, you'll see that each of the flowers has four small yellow petals, and they're in a cluster. You can see some yellow unopened flower buds in this picture, because I snapped the picture before they all began to bloom.


Sometimes you'll come across a plant without the yellow flowers, but if you see a cluster of green buds in a flourette (like a smaller version of its cousin, broccoli), you're good to go.


When the plant is smaller, you can tell that its mustard by first identifying its rosette. A rosette is when a whole bunch of leaves emerge from the ground from a central point, and spread outward, flat on the ground, in a circle, as seen in the above picture.


Eventually the plant will send leaves and stems upward and outward, sometimes growing as tall as 6 feet (as in the case of black mustard).


Wild mustard has long stems, with rounded or jagged leaves at the end, often with many shorter leaves along the lengths of the stem. The leaves can be as small as a quarter or bigger than the palm of your hand.


Many of the wild mustard plants are covered with "hairs", earning some types the moniker "hairy mustard". Depending on the species these "hairs" can be thicker and rougher, or sparse and downy, or even non existent.

The plant also usually has faint a turnip like smell.

Where can you find wild mustard?

In my experience, everywhere under the sun.


This is where I first discovered wild mustard. There were rosettes growing all over this dirt patch right near my house. (My bedroom window is approximately 10 feet to the left of this photo.)

I've since discovered it in empty lots near my house, among the shrubbery planted by my community gardeners (the plants apparently like to take advantage of  the drip irrigation system available there), trying to smother out some dwarf cherry trees growing about a mile from my house, popping up between cracks in the sidewalk, next to parking lots in the city. No matter where I go, I find wild mustard.


This is my absolute favorite place to come pick wild mustard. As you can see, there are fields and fields of green and yellow mustard plants, and at least 3 different species. It's in a scenic place, overlooking a mountain, and it is just beyond the row of houses across the street. 
There's enough food here to feed an army; I've named it "The Grocery Store".
One thing I especially like about this plant is that there is a huge amount of greens just one one plant. One decently sized plant can easily provide enough greens for two meals for my family.

How to prepare wild mustard

Wild mustard can be very dirty, as well as very buggy. Caterpillars hang out in droves along the leaves; the flowers are typically covered in tiny black bugs. After harvesting the leaves, the first step is to wash them very well in water. I usually soak my greens in soapy water for a good half hour, then take out the leaves one at a time and wash them off in a bowl of clean water, ensuring that all bugs and dirt are removed.

      

At this point, if you have very thick stalks, you may want to remove them, as the thicker stalks tend to be woody. (Any stalks thinner than a pencil are usually fine. Anything bigger, try breaking the stem. If it doesn't break easily, it'll probably be too tough to eat.)


Wild mustard can be somewhat sharp when raw and somewhat bitter when cooked. Blanching it or boiling it in water for a few minutes will remove the bitterness (the longer you boil, the less bitter it'll be), but will also remove some of the nutrition. If you're a fan of bitter, the blanching won't be necessary.

Once you've finished preparing the wild mustard, use it as you would spinach in any recipe.

  

Some of the yummy things I've made with wild mustard- hearty peasant soup (recipe coming soon), wild mustard sauted with onions and garlic and sprinkled with brewer's yeast, in the vegetable layer of a lasagna, topping the Sicilian broad bean soup, Maccu (recipe coming soon). I've also included it in pasta salad, stir fries, quiches, pesto, and tomato sauce (not shown).

Wild mustard tastes especially terrific paired with caramelized onions, olive oil, and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

I don't suggest eating the leaves raw, as the hairiness makes it feel like you've swallowed a hair ball and can easily induce gagging.  Cooking eliminates this problem.


The flowers of the wild mustard plant and the florettes can even be used to make a homemade wild mustard spread, which, according to my official taste testers, tastes exactly like the condiment, gourmet mustard.
If you have wild mustard growing nearby, go out and forage some today! (And  if you're still covered in snow, don't despair- spring will be there soon enough and you'll have a chance to forage for mustard in just a short little while.)
If you're new to foraging, make sure to read up about my rules of foraging.

Oh, and because I know someone's bound to ask this- yes, my kids do eat this. They love it and always ask for more!

Have you ever seen broccoli rabe in the grocery store? How much does it cost there? Have you ever bought it? How do you usually cook it?
Have you ever seen wild mustard growing near you? Does the plant look familiar? Have you ever picked it? Do you think you would be able to identify it based on this post?
How often do you eat greens? What is your favorite type? What ways do you usually serve your greens? (I'm looking for more ideas!)


10 comments:

  1. Thanks a lot for this excellent article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Can you cook the florets (buds) like broccoli rabe?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I enjoyed your post on wild mustard. There are fields near here (NC) and it looks like a yellow carpet, and from what I can tell it is wild mustard. If I knew for sure I would try it, but I don't know that would risk eating something that is poisonous.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Do you have a recipe for the wild mustard spread?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Excellent article! I'm going to keep and eye out for those recipes you've promised!

    ReplyDelete
  6. You sound like we could be twin sisters from the way you live! I am grateful for your website, and want to learn more about harvesting and using weed plants. May God bless you in your earthly journey!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have found a plant where we hunt and looks a lot like broccoli. While I know it is not broccoli but a mustard of some sorts I can not find any info on it. It is about 3ft tall, leaves near base of plant are on stems and leaves on top seem to be connected to main stem, small maybe 3" or less seed head, hand sized leaves that are curving(no points at all). Do you know anything about this? oh and the main stem is thick like broccoli also.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have found a plant where we hunt and looks just like a broccoli plant. While I know that broccoli does not grow wild I can not find any info on this mustard plant. It is about 3ft tall and has hand sized leaves with smooth curvy edges, lower leaves are on stems while upper leaves look to be attached to main stem, main stem is thick and heavy like a broccoli and it has a 3" seed/ flower head on it. Do you have any info on this?

    ReplyDelete
  9. If i clip off the flower soon after it emerges on the stalk, will that encourage the plant to make more leaves?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wild mustard is so good! I don't pick, I dig up the big flat rosettes, knock off the soil, pick off the ugly or yellow leaves, slosh them up and down in a tub of water, sling off the excess water, take 'em in the house, sit down with a huge bowl and a pair of scissors, and start clipping around from the out- to the inside of each rosette. Toss the root and trimmed crown in another container for the horse and hens. Then I simmer the clippings to death in water to cover, adding any or all of some bacon drippings, salt, vinegar, onion, garlic, pork hock, whatever's handy. Usually just drippings and salt. Serve with the juice over a nice chunk of real corn bread ( 1 & 1/2 c. cornmeal, 1/2 c. flour, 1 t. salt, 4 t. baking powder -you can add a spoonful of garlic and/or onion powder if you like - mix this together, then add a mixture of 1 c. milk, 1/4 c. oil, 1 egg. Mix well, scrape into a HOT well-greased 8-9" cast-iron skillet - it should sizzle - bake in pre-heated 400* oven about 30 minutes. Shake it loose and flip onto a plate.) Delicious. One more thing, I live in central Texas, and I've never had a problem (fall, winter, early spring) with insects (oh, the odd ladybug or two) or excessive dirt on the leaves (dig where there's grass under them.) My brother, daughter and aunt all think these taste much better than the cultivated varieties.

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Share This