No hamburger or hotdog is complete without it, and no summer picnic is fully prepped without adding a jar to the basket. Whether it's spicy, honeyed or simply a bright yellow hue, mustard is a condiment that has added a kick to sandwiches, dressings and entrees for hundreds of years.
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The tasty condiment comes from a mustard tree or mustard plant (Brassicaceae plant family), and many home gardeners have taken to growing mustard seeds to admire the sharp, radiant yellows of the mustard flower. Before planting, keep in mind that the tiniest mustard seed can yield a huge mustard tree, depending on the species.
How Big Do Mustard Trees Grow?
Despite its diminutive size, one tiny mustard seed can produce a mustard tree or mustard plant that's 5 to 6.5 feet tall, towering over the other plants in your garden. Some white and brown mustard seeds will produce a tall mustard tree, while other white mustard seeds produce a much smaller leafy mustard plant that's usually grown in gardens. Some annual mustard plants can grow up to 6 feet.
Mustard Plant vs. Mustard Bush
It should be noted that a mustard bush is a very different plant altogether. Found in Africa, the mustard bush isn't the same as the mustard tree or mustard plant that provides seeds for a condiment or can be found in a small American garden.
The African mustard bush feeds livestock and is used for medicinal purposes. It can grow up to 13 feet tall with a 20-foot spread of leaves. While some may refer to their smaller, American-grown mustard plants as a mustard bush due to its size and shape, the official mustard bush is a very different plant that's usually not suited for home gardens.
What Does a Mustard Plant Look Like?
The mustard plant itself has been cultivated since 3000 BC, with Indian and Sumerian texts referencing the seed. A typical mustard plant found in a home garden will consist of large, leafy greens and golden yellow flowers grown in clusters ranging from two to 12 flowers.
The leaves are broad and flat veined and can be toothed and lobed (meaning the leaves of the mustard plant may not be smooth on the sides). They're usually dark green, but mustard plant leaves can also have purple streaks and appear curly or smooth.
What Does a Mustard Seed Look Like?
Mustard seeds are known for being tiny. They're the subject of parables and praise since the humble, small mustard seed grows into a large mustard tree or mustard bush in Palestine and African regions, inspiring great things from small beginnings. The mustard seed is around one-tenth of an inch in size.
A mustard plant will grow long, skinny seed pods. Sometimes colored black, purple or green, the mustard seed pods split in the middle to expose small, light yellow, white, black or dark brown seeds, depending on the plant type. White mustard seeds that are typically grown in gardens will be white or light yellow like their flowers. Brown mustard plants will have around 20 seeds in each pod, while white mustard plants will have around eight seeds per pod.
Are Mustard Plants Edible?
The entire mustard plant can be used as a food source. Mustard leaves (and shoots) can be eaten as a vegetable dish, much like spinach leaves. (These are sometimes called mustard greens or leaf mustard.) Mustard greens can grow in cooler temperatures and can be cut from the plant individually without harvesting the entire plant at once. Even mustard flowers are edible, although they can be very bitter and not as tasty as the leaves and, therefore, not used as often as a food source. The mustard seed can be used fresh as a spice or dried and ground to make a mustard condiment.