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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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The varieties of mustard-seed of commerce are produced from several species of the genus Brassica (a member of the natural order Cruciferae). Of these the principal are the black or brown mustard, Brassica nigra (Sinapis nigra), the white mustard, Brassica alba, and the Sarepta mustard, B. juncea. Both the white and black mustards are cultivated to some extent in various parts of England. The white is to be found in every garden as a salad plant; but it has come into increasing favour as a forage crop for sheep, and as a green manure, for which purpose it is ploughed down when about to come into flower. The black mustard is grown solely for its seeds, which yield the well-known condiment. The name of the condiment was in French moustarde, mod. moutarde, as being made of the seeds of the plant pounded and mixed with must (Lat. mustum, i.e. unfermented wine).' The word was thus transferred to the plant itself. When white mustard is cultivated for its herbage it is sown usually in July or August, after some early crop has been removed. The land being brought into a fine tilth, the seed, at the rate of 12 lb per acre, is sown broadcast, and covered in the way recommended for clover seeds. In about six weeks it is ready either for feeding off by sheep or for ploughing down as a preparative for wheat or barley. White mustard is not fastidious in regard to soil. When grown for a seed crop it is treated in the way about to be described for the other variety. For this purpose either kind requires a fertile soil, as it is an exhausting crop. The seed is sown in April, is once hoed in May, and requires no further culture. As soon as the pods have assumed a brown colour the crop is reaped and laid down in handfuls, which lie until dry enough for thrashing or stacking. In removing it from the ground it must be handled with great care, and carried to the thrashing-floor or stack on cloths, to avoid the loss of seed. The price depends much on its being saved in dry weather, as the quality suffers much from wet. This great evil attends its growth, that the seeds which are unavoidably shed in harvesting the crop remain in the soil, and stock it permanently with what proves a pestilent weed amongst future crops.

White mustard is used as a small salad - generally accompanied by garden cress - while still in the seed leaf. To keep up a supply the seed should be sown every week or ten days. The sowings in the open ground may be made from March till October, earlier or later according to the season. The ground should be light and rich, and the situation warm and sheltered. Sow thickly in rows 6 in. apart, and slightly cover the seed, pressing the surface smooth with the back of the spade. When gathering the crop, cut the young plants off even with the ground, or pull 1 There were two kinds of mustum, one the best for keeping, produced after the first treading of the grapes, and called mustum lixivum; the other, mustum tortivum, obtained from the mass of trodden grapes by the wine-press, was used for inferior purposes.

)(Ix. 4 them up and cut off the roots, beginning at one end of a row. From October to March the seeds should be sown thickly in shallow boxes and placed in a warm house or frame, with a temperature not below 65°.

Brassica nigra occurs as a weed in waste and cultivated ground throughout England and the south of Scotland, but is a doubtful native. It is a large branching annual 2 to 3 ft. high with stiff, rather rough, stem and branches, dark green leaves ranging from lyrate below to lanceolate above, short racemes of small bright yellow flowers one-third of an inch in diameter and narrow smooth pods. B. alba is more restricted to cultivated ground and has still less claim to be considered a native of Great Britain; it is distinguished from black mustard by its smaller size, larger flowers and seeds, and spreading rough hairy pods with a long curved beak.

The peculiar pungency and odour to which mustard owes much of its value are due to an essential oil developed by the action of water on two peculiar chemical substances contained in the black seed. These bodies are a glucoside termed by its discoverers myronate of potassium, but since called sinigrin, C10H1sKNS2010, and an albuminoid body, myrosin. The latter substance in presence of water acts as a ferment on sinigrin, splitting it up into the essential oil of mustard, a potassium salt, and sugar. It is worthy of remark that this reaction does not take place in presence of boiling water, and therefore it is not proper to use very hot water (above 120° F.) in the preparation of mustard. The explanation is that myrosin is decomposed by water above this temperature. Essential oil of mustard is in chemical constitution an isothiocyanate of allyl C 3 H 5 NCS. It is prepared artificially by a process, discovered by Zinzin, which consists in treating bromide of allyl with thiocyanate of ammonium and distilling the resultant thiocyanate of allyl. The seed of white mustard contains in place of sinigrin a peculiar glucoside called sinalbin, C30H44N2S2016, in several aspects analogous to sinigrin. In presence of water it is acted upon by myrosin, present also in white mustard, splitting it up into acrinyl isothiocyanate, sulphate of sinapin and glucose. The first of these is a powerful rubefacient, whence white mustard, although yielding no volatile oil, forms a valuable material for plasters. The seeds of Brassica juncea have the same constitution and properties as black mustard, as a substitute for which they are extensively cultivated in southern Russia; the plant is also cultivated abundantly in India.

Both as a table condiment and as a medicinal substance, mustard has been known from a very remote period. Under the name of vair y it was used by Hippocrates in medicine. The form in which table mustard is now sold in the United Kingdom dates from 1720, about which time Mrs Clements of Durham hit on the idea of grinding the seed in a mill and sifting the flour from the husk. The bright yellow farina thereby produced under the name of "Durham mustard" pleased the taste of George I., and rapidly attained wide popularity. As it is now prepared mustard consists essentially of a mixture of black and white farina in certain proportions. Several grades of pure mustard are made containing nothing but the farina of mustard-seed, the lower qualities having larger amounts of the white cheaper mustard; and corresponding grades of a mixed preparation of equal price, but containing certain proportions of wheaten or starch flour, are also prepared and sold as "mustard condiment." The mixture is free from the unmitigated bitterness and sharpness of flavour of pure mustard, and it keeps much better.

The volatile oil distilled from black mustard seeds after maceration with water is official in the British Pharmacopeia under the title Oleum sinapis volatile. It is a yellowish or colourless pungent liquid, soluble only in about fifty parts of water, but readily so in ether and in alcohol. From it is prepared, with camphor, castor oil and alcohol, the linimentum sinapis. The official sinapis consists of black and white mustard seeds powdered and mixed. The advantage of mixture depends upon the fact that the white mustard seeds have an excess of the ferment myrosin, and the black, whilst somewhat deficient in myrosin, yield a volatile body as compared with the fixed product of the white mustard seeds. From this mixture is prepared the charta sinapis, which consists of cartridge paper covered with a mixture of the powder and the liquor caoutchouc, the fixed oil having first been removed by benzol, thus rendering the glucoside capable of being more easily decomposed by the ferment.

Used internally as a condiment, mustard stimulates the salivary but not the gastric secretions. It increases the peristaltic movements of the stomach very markedly. One drachm to half an ounce of mustard in a tumblerful of warm water is an efficient emetic, acting directly upon the gastric sensory nerves, long before any of the drug could be absorbed so as to reach the emetic centre in the medulla oblongata. The heart and respiration are reflexly stimulated, mustard being thus the only stimulant emetic. Some few other emetics act without any appreciable depression, but in cases of poisoning with respiratory or cardiac failure mustard should never be forgotten. In contrast to this may be mentioned, amongst the external therapeutic applications of mustard, its frequent power of relieving vomiting when locally applied to the epigastrium.

The uses of mustard leaves in the treatment of local pains are well known. When a marked counter-irritant action is needed, mustard is often preferable to cantharides in being more manageable and in causing a less degree of vesication; but the cutaneous damage done by mustard usually takes longer to heal. A mustard sitz bath will often hasten and alleviate the initial stage of menstruation, and is sometimes used to expedite the appearance of the eruption in measles and scarlatina. The domestic remedy of hot water and mustard for children's feet in cases of cold or threatened cold may be of some use in drawing the blood to the surface and thus tending to prevent an excessive vascular dilatation in the nose or bronchi. The proportion of an ounce of mustard to a gallon of water is a fair one and easily remembered. But by far the most important therapeutic application of mustard is as a unique emetic.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Mustard'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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