Black mustard plants are cultivated for medicinal use. Their seeds have been used to create healing oils used for chest colds, inflammation, bronchitis, and other conditions. The flavorful black mustard seed is also used in Indian cooking.
Seeds of the plant often have their coats removed before being used in herbal remedies. They are very small at only less than half an inch (one millimeter) in diameter. Brown or black in color, the seeds are hard and nearly scentless, though they do have a nutty flavor.
Ancient Greeks used the medicinal plant for treating lung congestion. When traditional medicine calls for mustard plaster, black mustard is the mustard referred to. The paste is made up of wheat flour, water, and powdered mustard seed. This treatment has been applied to patients' chests to ward off bronchial infections and chest colds. Folk medicine practitioners have instructed caregivers to provide this treatment to their family members when ill.
Research indicates that the mustard plant may be effective in treating skin inflammation. It can be used to treat skeletal and muscular aches and pains. The seeds may also help increase one's circulation. As a tea or bath additive, mustard can help lower a fever and treat the flu. It can also be used as a stimulant and diuretic.
Mustard seeds should be handled very carefully. They contain myrosin and sinigrin compounds, which are considered some of the most caustic herbal substances known to humans. When mixed with water, a small drop of the resulting oil can cause a burning sensation or blisters on the skin. If plaster is left on the skin for too long, blisters can appear. For this reason, only professional health care providers should prescribe the paste.
The most common use of the remedy is within an herbal poultice. If the traditional mustard plaster is used and causes irritation, olive oil or another soothing substance may be applied for relief. Black mustard infusions are made by mixing a small amount of the seeds with boiling water. Foot baths made with the same ingredients are another common remedy featuring the herb.
When ground with honey, black mustard seeds may be used as a cough suppressant. As a food, black mustard can be found nearly everywhere. Table mustard contains the substance as its primary flavoring. The black mustard plant is sometimes cooked or added to salads as a nutritious meal. In Ethiopia, the plant is cultivated as a vegetable.
An annual plant, the black mustard can reach up to six feet (two meters) in height. It features pinnate leaves, yellow flowers from May to July, and black pods from June to October. The plant's mustard seeds are found within the pods. Native to Europe and grown in many countries of the world for thousands of years, the plant can be found growing wild throughout North America.