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Sinapis alba L.

Syn.:Brassica hirta Moench
Brassica alba (L.) Rabenh.
White or Yellow mustard

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Toxicity
  5. Description
  6. Germplasm
  7. Distribution
  8. Ecology
  9. Cultivation
  10. Harvesting
  11. Yields and Economics
  12. Energy
  13. Biotic Factors
  14. References


White mustard is grown for its seed, used as a condiment and for soils they yield; as a salad plant; and as a green fodder crop or as green manure. Seeds yield 20–35% of a golden-yellow mild tasting oil which is used as lubricant and illuminant. White Mustard Oil is also a by-product of the condiment industry in countries where the seed is partially deolated before milling. Oil also used in Sweden in the manufacture of mayonnaise. Seedling used as a salad plant, eaten raw in salads and sandwiches. Leaves are used as potherbs. In the US mustard is second in demand only to pepper among spices. Commercial mustard usually combines white mustard for pungency with black mustard for aroma, and the yellow color is due to the addition of turmeric. Vinegar is added to prevent the speedy decomposition experienced with mustard freshly prepared from the dry powder. Whole seeds are used for pickles and may be boiled with such vegetables as cabbage and sauerkraut. Plant grown as a cover crop because of its rapid growth. Oil cake used for fattening sheep.

Folk Medicine

The seed or its oil is taken both internally or externally, for cancers, growths of the abdomen, spleen, stomach, throat, uterus or wrist indurations. Medicinally, seeds are considered diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, irritant, and stimulant, and are used in poultices for acute local pain, pneumonia, bronchitis, and other diseases of the resiratory organs. The volatile oil is a powerful irritant, rubefacient, and vesicant, used for rheumatic pains and colic. In 1699 John Evelyn's Acetaria says of the seedlings "of incomparable effect to quicken and revive the spirits, strengthening the memory expelling heaviness...besides being an approved antiscorbutic. As a counterirritant, the seeds ground and mixed with vinegar are recommended for rheumatism, yet used internally for digestive disorders. Mustard seed tea has been prescribed as a gargle for sore throat, and it is said to relieve bronchitis and rheumatism (Grieve, 1931). The plant is thought to have emollient and sedative, even narcotic properties (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962).


White Mustard contains an enzyme myrosin and a glucoside sinalbin which yields upon hydrolysis, acrinyl isothiocynate, a pungent tasting but almost odorless oil. Sinalbin mustard oil is only slightly volatile with steam, and causes blisters on the skin. Seeds contain 7.2% moisture, 27.6% protein, 29.7% crude fat, 20.8% N-free extract, 10.3% fiber, and 4.5% ash (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976). Asian analyses suggest that the seed contains per 100 g: 469 calories 5.0% moisture, 26.4% protein, 36.3% fat, 28.2% total carbohydrate, 5.2% fiber, 4.1% ash, 410 mg Ca, 613 mg P, 20.9 mg Fe, 630 mg b-carotene equivalent, 0.40 mg thiamine, 0.31 mg riboflavin, 7.3 mg niacin, and 0 ascorbic acid.


Seeds have a cathartic acid due to liberation of H2S on contact with water. Large doses may produce sulfide poisoning, with cyanosis, etc. Troxler (1981) reports fatalities in 19 of 48 heifers fed white mustard. A sudden drop in temperature inhibited its growth in the: preflowering stage. The plant contained 6.2% nitrate in the DM, 10–20 times the toxic level.


Erect, sparsely-hairy branching winter annual herb, developed from a taproot; stems up to 1.5 m tall, usually with stiff de-flexed hairs, but sometimes glabrous; leaves petiolate, alternate, ovate or obovate, to 8 cm long and 4 cm wide, pinnately dissected into 3–5 rounded segments, usually hispid but not scabrid; flowers yellow, in elongated racemes, hairy, patent, the beak broad, flattened, 10–30 mm long, attenuate; seeds 4–8 per pod, globular, yellowish to light brown, 2 mm in diameter, the innner seed coat containing mucilage, cotyledons containing oil with pungent taste but no odor. 2n = 24. Fl. spring and summer; fr. summer and fall.


Two subspecies are recognized; subsp. alba—with lyrate-pinnatified or lyrate-pinnate leaves and siliques 20–40 mm long and 3–4 mm wide, the valves usually hispid, with a beak 10–30 mm long, and yellow or pale brown seeds; and subsp. dissecta (Lag.) Bonnier—with leaves twice pinnatifid, not lyrate, with the terminal lobe ovate and the lateral lobes oblong-linear and siliques 25–30 mm long and 3.5–6.5 mm wide, the valves slightly hairy or glabrous, the beak 10–20 mm long and the seeds grayish-brown. Assigned to the Mediterranean Center of Diversity white mustard or cvs thereof is said to tolerate frost, high pH, heavy soil, low pH, smog, and weeds. (2n = 24).


Native to the Mediterranean region and the Crimea, but introduced into northwestern Europe, Russia, Japan, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, India, North Africa, and China. It has become naturalized in many areas and is a weed of cultivated lands, especially flax-fields.


A quick-growing long-day annual which prefers temperate climates with some humidity. Can withstand high temperatures, but very hot days during flowering and ripening may reduce seed setting and lower quality of seed. Requires high nutrient soils with high level of nitrogen, but may be grown on a wide range of soils from light to heavy, growing best on relatively heavy sandy loamy soils. Not suited to very wet soils. Ranging from Boreal Moist to Wet through Tropical Dry Forest Life Zones, white mustard occurs where annual precipitation varies from 3.5 to 17.9 dm (mean of 43 cases = 7.7), annual temperature from 5.6 to 24.9°C (mean of 43 cases = 10.5), and pH of 4.5 to 8.2 (mean of 36 cases = 6.6).


Land to be sown to mustard should be prepared in the fall. Seed may be sown in early spring with a seeder at rate of 4–5 kg/ha and then the land harrowed. In Great Britain seed is sown at rate of 12 kg/ha on heavy soils and up to 14 kg/ha on light soils. In the Pacific States sowing may be as early as January. Crop may be cultivated, harvested, and handled with ordinary farm machinery. For salad greens, plants are havested when a few cm tall, when only the first pairs of leaves (seed-leaves) have expanded. Crop is usually grown in greenhouses, thus crops can be produced year round if a temperature of 10–15°C is maintained. Seed is sown on the surface of soil, on firm level beds; watered with a fine spray, then covered with steam-sterilized net sack-cloth, which is sprayed to keep it moist, and removed when seedlings are 2.5–3.5 cm tall, in about 4 days in spring and autumn and 6–7 days in winter. The yellowish seed-leaves turn green in 2–3 days and then the crop is cut. It is usually marketed in small boxes, sometimes packed together with cress. For home use, small quantities of seed may be grown on wet flannel on a dish, covered to exclude light and to keep the seedlings moist.


Seeds are ripe for harvest when they are hard and black. Fruits do not shatter readily and can be direct combined. It is important to harvest the seed when ripe, since the seed weight increases substantially during the last 2–3 days before the crop is ready to harvest in August or earlier. For pure seed production, varieties must be isolated at least 360 m apart. From seeding to harvest usually requires about 4 months in the US. In temperate India it is grown as a winter garden crop.

Yields and Economics

Under mechanization in the U.S., farmer yields of nearly 900 kg/ha have been obtained. Yielded 37 MT fresh fodder, and 329 kg DCP when harvested in April, grown as a catch crop after corn in irrigated trials in the Samarkand region of Russia (Gorelov et al, 1980).


If the experimental seed yields of 8000 kg/ha (Duke, 1978) are correct, the 25–30% oil content could add up to nearly 2.5 MT oil per hectare.

Biotic Factors

White mustard is 100% pollinated by wind and insects, mainly honey-bees. Among diseases infesting white mustard are the white-rust Albugo candida, an Alternaria leaf spot, the powdery mildew Erysiphe polygoni, the downy mildew Peronospora parasitica, the clubroot Plasmodiophora brassicae, and the stemrot Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. Nematodes include Ditylenchus dipsaci, Heterodera cruciferae, H. schachtii, H. trifolii, Meloidogyne sp., Pratylenchus penetrans, and P. pratensis (Golden, p.c. 1984).


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Friday, January 9, 1998 by aw