Most of us are reminded of ballparks, barbeques and hotdogs. Mustard, however, is used around the world to flavor all sorts of food. It is one of the most popular spices. But did you know that this tiny little seed not only packs a lot of flavor, but also has big health benefits?
Mustard is a spice commonly used in East Indian cooking. Recently as I was learning Indian cooking from a friend's mother, we began discussing the health benefits of the various spices we were using, including mustard. I was surprised to learn that this tiny little seed can help with ailments ranging from food poisoning to cancer.
Mustard comes from the cabbage family and can be found in forty different varieties. However, there are three principal types of mustard that are commonly used: white, brown and black mustard seeds. White seeds, that are actually yellow in color, are the most mild. They are the ones used to make the yellow mustard most of us put on our hotdogs. Brown seeds, which are dark yellow in color, are a bit stronger and are used to make Dijon mustard. Black mustard seeds are the most pungent in taste.
Mustard seeds are used in their whole seed form, as a ground powder or combined with vinegar, wine or other liquids to create the paste most of us are familiar with. Mustard grows well in temperate climates. While Hungary, Great Britain, India, Canada and the United States currently produce the vast majority of mustard seeds used in the world today, the origin of mustard seeds can be traced to different areas of Europe and Asia.
The ancient Grecians used mustard seeds for their culinary properties. And it was in Rome that a paste from the ground seeds was first created, which is probably the ancestor of the mustard condiment we use today. Ancient Sanskrit writings dating back approximately 5,000 years, mention mustard seeds. Mustard seeds are also discussed in the New Testament in which faith and the kingdom of Heaven are compared to a mustard seed.
Early physicians, including Hippocrates, used mustard seed in their medicines. And even today, in many parts of the world, mustard seeds are used medicinally.
Mustard is an age-old purgative, meaning, it can be used to induce vomiting. This can be necessary in cases of accidental poisoning. My friend's mother told me that in order to induce vomiting, you need to drink a mustard-flavored water concoction. Simply boil a teaspoon of seeds in a cup of water. Drain and allow the water to cool completely. Drink the mustard-flavored water all at once to cause vomiting.
For head or lung congestion, mustard is also a wonderful remedy. I was told that to clear congestion, prepare a warm foot-bath with water and a tablespoon of ground mustard seeds. Soaking your feet in this will draw the blood to the lower part of the body, and thus relieve congestion.
Mustard can also be used to help alleviate respiratory issues by making a poultice of ground mustard and applying it directly to the chest and throat.
In fact, mustard seeds are like tiny multi-vitamin pills. They contain calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, and dietary fiber. Mustard seeds also contain omega 3 fatty acids, which can lower cholesterol levels and help prevent heart disease. The seeds also have selenium and magnesium, which both possess anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis or asthma. Mustard seeds are also known their anti-cancer effects due to the isothiocyanates in them.