The plant called the black mustard can reach up to six feet when fully grown, it is an annual plant. The plant bears leaves that are pinnately divided at the base and toothed on the edges giving them a peculiar appearance. There is also a heteromorphy in the shape of the leaves, in that the upper leaves tend to be much smaller and are shaped narrower while the lower ones are broader and wider in shape. The plant produces striking yellow flowers in season, around May through July and these bear black pods sometime from June to October. Each of these pods contains the tiny brown to black seeds called the mustard seeds.
In places where the black mustard is cultivated, endless acres of yellow-blossomed black mustard plants can brighten up the fields across the land during spring - such blooms can also be seen in some waste areas as well. The black to brown seeds that the graceful yellow flowers will produce in season are included as one of the most powerful herbal caustic agents known to man. Two compounds called myrosin and sinigrin are contained as active ingredients in the seed of the black mustard. A volatile oil is produced by these chemicals when they are mixed with some water, even getting a tiny drop of this oil on the skin can cause skin blisters to form or bring on a burning sensation in the area.
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Traditional doctors in the past used this oil as the basis for the renowned traditional mustard plaster used in so many treatments. The mustard plaster was applied or rubbed into the region of the chest to ward off bad chest colds and bronchial conditions in children and mothers were tasked with applying it. This traditional mustard plaster is made from a mixture of the powdered mustard, some wheat flour, and some water which has been carefully spread between two soft pieces of cloth like flannel - this was placed directly on to the chest area of the affected child to bring relief from distress. The skin would undergo blistering if the plaster was left on the skin for too long or if the preparation was too strong or caustic - only experienced practitioners made this plaster for this reason.
Mustard seed oil is a counter irritant; this makes the plaster very effective in dealing with skin irritants. Counter irritants are chemical agents which when applied externally to a region of inflammation on the skin, will induce dilation in the blood vessels present there. The original inflammation is mostly due to toxins, this dilation of blood vessels in the area increases the blood flow to the area and a greater flow in the area carries away the toxic products faster - leading to elimination of the toxins and reduction in the inflammation.
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Lung congestion problems were treated by the ancient Greek physicians using plasters made from the black mustard. Bronchial problems were treated using the black mustard plasters by the Anglo-Saxons as well. The black mustard seeds have been shown to be very effective as external agents for the alleviation of sub-surface inflammations on the skin in various researches conducted so far. Table mustard also contains the seeds of black mustard as the main flavoring agent. The plant itself, including the stalk and the leaves are very nutritious food, and are either cooked or added to salads raw.
A mild irritation to the skin is induced by the rubefacient action of the black mustard. This results in the stimulation of the circulation to that affected area and also results in relieving the pain in the muscular and skeletal parts of the body. The black mustard also possesses strong stimulatory and diaphoretic actions similar to the cayenne and ginger herbs - and it can thus be used for the same purposes as these herbs. An herbal tea or grounded and sprinkled on bath water, the black mustard can help cure feverishness in the body, it can also be used in treating colds and influenza. While treating the conditions already mentioned, the stimulation in the circulation induced by the black mustard will also aid in the treatment of chilblains affecting a person. Treatment of bronchitis can be carried out by taking the black mustard in the form of an herbal infusion or poultice.
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The black mustard is found in the wild throughout North America, though it is a native plant of Europe - black mustard is also cultivated in many other parts of the world.
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Poultice: The ideal way to use the black mustard and the most common is as an herbal poultice. This herbal remedy can be prepared by mixing together 100 grams or four ounces of the freshly ground mustard seeds in some warm water-preferably at 45°C, the mixture can then be beaten into a thick paste or poultice. A piece of cotton or linen cloth about size of the body area to be covered is smeared with this paste and the cloth is applied. Dampened gauze may be laid on the naked skin to prevent the paste from sticking and spreading on the skin along the affected area. The cloth must be removed after one minute of constant application. This treatment may results in reddening the affected area of the skin and the soreness can be relieved by later applying some olive oil on the area.
Infusion: A tbsp of black mustard flour can be mixed with a cup of boiling water and left to allow the herb to infuse into the water for five minutes at a time. Drinking this herbal infusion thrice daily will help in treatment of the disorder.
Foot bath: A full tablespoon of the bruised black mustard seeds added to a litre or two pints of boiling water can be prepared as an infusion for a foot bath in case of sore feet.
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During late summer, the ripened seeds of black mustard pods are collected and stored and the plants are also harvested for culinary use. The pods are tapped or beaten to let the seeds out and dried in a thin layer in the sun.