Mustard, also known as mustard greens (of which there are several popular varieties1,2) is a relative of cabbage, broccoli and radishes. It’s a cool-weather plant that is easy to grow, matures quickly and is self-seeding.3
As noted by Grow Network,4 “Mustard can grow in almost any soil type, withstand drought conditions … and self-seed to produce a continuous crop with almost no work on your part.”
The Florida broadleaf and Green wave varieties take about 45 days to mature while the Southern giant curled variety takes about a week longer. When choosing a variety, consider your palate. Some varieties are milder, such as Osaka purple, while others are bolder and spicier in flavor. Black and brown mustards have a sharper, tangier flavor.
Planting Tips for Mustard Greens
To begin, you’ll want to prepare your garden bed with well-draining soil. For optimal growth and taste profile, use loamy garden soil with a pH between 6.5 and 6.8. Grow Network5 suggests mixing in a few inches of organic compost along with a handful of stone dust, then soaking the soil with water and waiting a few days before planting your seeds.
Seeds can be planted as long as the soil isn’t frozen but as a general rule, plant about three weeks before the first frost-free date in spring. Seeds can germinate at temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Plant a second batch three weeks later for a continuous harvest through spring and early summer.
For a fall crop, plant your seeds once the hottest part of the summer has passed. In many areas, mustard greens can even be grown during the winter, using cold frames, cloches or row covers to protect against deep freeze. As an added boon, most plant diseases and pests will be avoided during colder months.
Plant two to three mustard seeds one-third to one-fifth inch-deep, 6 to 12 inches apart. Keep the soil moist but not soggy throughout the growing season. For best results, use a slow-soak or drip system to avoid getting the leaves wet during watering. This will go a long way toward avoiding downy mildew, which thrives on damp leaves.
Once the seeds have sprouted, thin them out so you have just one plant for every 6 to 12 inches. Be sure to weed frequently as the weeds will steal important nutrients from the mustard plant and could stifle its growth.
Mustard Greens Are Versatile Plants With Several Uses
Every part of the mustard plant can be used, including the roots, seeds and leaves. The seeds in particular have a long history of use in Chinese medicine. Abscesses, bronchitis, asthma, colds, rheumatism, toothaches, aches and pains, bladder inflammation, ulcers and various gastrointestinal ailments are among the many historical uses of mustard seed, often in the form of a mustard plaster or poultice, which is applied topically.6,7
Historically, mustard was also used in baths to alleviate inflammation, as it helps increase blood flow. Naturally, the seeds can also be collected and used for replanting, or you can sprout them or make your own homemade mustard if you have a sufficient amount. (A simple recipe is included below.) What’s more, you can use the plant as a natural pest repellent. According to Grow Network:8
“When chopped and incorporated into your soil just prior to flowering, mustard greens act as a biofumigant. They suppress pests and diseases through the release of inhibitory chemicals created when water and soil enzymes break down the glucosinolates in the greens.”
You can learn more about this in “Growing Mustard as a Biofumigant Cover Crop,”9 issued by the University of Massachusetts. Mustard greens will also attract bees, which will benefit whatever else you have growing in your garden.
A note of caution: Some states view mustard as an invasive weed and have imposed restrictions on where and how you’re allowed to grow it, so be sure to check with your County Extension agent to find out if any restrictions apply before you plant them in your garden.
Harvest and Storage for Mustard Greens
Once the plants have matured, simply clip off leaves as needed using scissors or a knife, leaving the remainder of the plant in place. This way, it will continue to grow even as you keep harvesting. For salads, choose young, tender leaves. More mature greens make for a tasty dish either sautéed or steamed.
Cut off and discard wilted, unhealthy-looking leaves. Heat makes the mustard greens bitter and tough, so once the heat of summer sets in, pull out all of the plants and use for compost, and then replant in the fall.
Should you end up with too-abundant a crop, consider harvesting and freezing the leaves. To properly preserve them, they must first be blanched as follows:
- Wash the greens and trim off the stems. If you like, you can cut the leaves into smaller strips
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, and prepare an ice bath in a large container or sink
- Once the water is boiling, immerse the leaves and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid
- Blanch for three minutes, then remove the greens from the water with a slotted spoon (or use a blanching basket if you have one), and place them into the ice water for five minutes
- Remove and drain on a paper towel. Once full dry, pack the leaves into freezer containers. If using freezer bags, squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing. Label and date each bag. The mustard greens will be good for up to one year at zero degrees F. or below
Nutritional Profile of Mustard Greens
Boiled mustard greens boast an impressive nutritional profile, with each 1-cup serving (140 grams) providing:10
- 524 percent of your daily value (DV) for vitamin K
- 177 percent of your DV for vitamin A
- 59 percent of your DV for vitamin C
- 26 percent of your DV for folate
Due to its high vitamin K content, you may need to eat it sparingly if you’re taking blood thinning medication such as Warfarin. Mustard also contains oxalic acid, which can be an issue if you’re prone to kidney stones. That said, mustard greens contain a number of valuable medicinal plant compounds that support good health, including:
- Hydroxycinnamic acid — Shown to inhibit human lung adenocarcinoma cells and effectively combat multiple drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It also has antimalarial activity11 and much more
- Quercetin — An important free radical fighter, immune booster and powerful antiviral shown to inhibit several strains of influenza, hepatitis B and C and other viruses
- Isorhamnetin — Shown to induce apoptosis (cell death) in certain cancer cells. It may also have particular benefits for inflammatory skin conditions12
- Kaempferol — Which has hypoglycemic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardioprotective and neuroprotective effects, just to name a few13
- Glucosinolates — Plant chemicals that your body converts into isothiocyanates (ITCs), which have anticancer properties. In fact, studies suggest cancer protection is a primary benefit of mustard greens.14
How to Eat Mustard Greens
Mustard greens can be eaten in a number of ways. Simply toss them into your salad, or add as a steamed or sautéed side dish, for example. Sautéing, braising or steaming the leaves will cut some of the bitterness while adding a tasty kick to just about any dish.
For a slow-cooked Indian-style Sarson ka Saag (pureed greens) dish, see MyHeartBeets.com.15 Many other recipes can be found online as well. You can also ferment the leaves, which will allow you to store them for an extended period of time.
The seeds from the plant — which are a good source of phosphorous, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and manganese — can also be used in a number of ways. You can sprout them (for instructions, see SproutPeople.org’s growing instructions for mustard seeds16), add them to smoothies or make homemade mustard.
Mustard Green Recipes
Gwen Stewart, author of “The Healing Garden,” provides a couple of recipes for making your own mustard condiment in this referenced article,17 as does Grow Network.18 Following is a basic mustard recipe by Paleo Leap,19 which can be tweaked based on your own taste preferences by adding other seasonings and herbs to it.
Basic Mustard Recipe
- 1/2 cup mustard powder
- 1/2 cup water
- Sea salt to taste
Optional: fresh parsley, chopped
Optional: fresh basil, chopped
Optional: lemon or lime zest
Optional: 1 to 2 tablespoons of your choice of vinegar
In a bowl, combine mustard powder and water and mix until smooth. Add parsley, basil, lemon or lime zest and/or vinegar, if using. Let the mustard rest for 15 minutes before using.
You can also find a whole-grain mustard recipe on the Paleo Leap website,20 which uses yellow and brown whole mustard seeds instead of mustard powder. It’s a bit more involved, as the whole seeds need to be soaked overnight before you can use them. You also need a food processor to turn it into a paste.
How to Make Pickled Mustard Greens
Like most other vegetables, you can also ferment or pickle your mustard greens. Aside from freezing, this is yet another way to minimize waste and make your harvest last longer while adding valuable probiotics (beneficial bacteria), not to mention variety, to your diet.
CảiChua is Vietnamese pickled mustard greens with a sour and spicy flavor that works well with a variety of dishes. The following recipe is from GardenBetty.com. For step-by-step instructions, please see the original article:21
Vietnamese Pickled Mustard Greens
- 2 1/2 pounds of mustard greens
- 4 stalks green onions
- 1 1/2 tablespoons pickling salt
- 4 Thai bird’s eye chiles (or 2 serrano peppers)
- 2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon pickling salt