MUSTARD (Brassica alba, B. nigra): Origin perhaps native to the temperate regions of Europe. Seeds of mustard have been chewed since antiquity to alleviate the pain of toothache. The small size of mustard seeds – and the wonderful taste and uses of mustard preparations – gave rise to the adage: “Small beginnings – large endings.” The Roman generalist, Pliny, stated that the best mustard seed comes from Egypt. Throughout Europe mustard has been used medicinally for epilepsy and stomachache. By at least 1664 mustard was considered part of treatments to “quicken and revive the Spirits, strengthening the Memory, and expelling Heaviness.”
The Gerarde herbal commented that mustard seed pounded with vinegar was an excellent sauce to accompany good meats [i.e. food]. Mustard helps digestion, warms the stomach, and promotes appetite; mustard has success when treating persons who are short-winded and stopped in the head with tough flegme from the head and braine. When seeds are chewed in the mouth mustard can reduce the pain of toothache; mustard mixed with water and honey promotes urine flow; mustard seeds inserted into the nostrils cause sneezing that eases fits; when mixed with figs and prepared as a plaster and applied to the shaved head it treats the falling sickness and aids those who are lethargic; if applied to the hip or knuckle bones this reduces the pain of sciatica and cold temperatures. Mustard helps those who have had their hair pulled off and reduces the blew and blacke marks that come of bruisings.
The Culpeper herbal contains broad range of mustard-related information: mustard is an excellent sauce for weak stomachs; it strengthens the heart and resists poison; mustard seed mixed with cinnamon and ground to a powder then mixed with mastic [gum] then dissolved in rose water – when taken an hour or two before meals – this will help persons with weak stomachs to improve their appetite and digest their meal [NOTE: said to be especially good for old men and women]. A mustard seed bath will draw out bone splinters; reduce the falling sickness and lethargy, reduce drowsiness, and the evil of forgetfulness. Mustard may be used both inwardly and outwardly, rubbed on the nostrils, forehead and temples to warm and quicken the spirits. Because mustard quickens the spirits it purges the brain by causing sneezing and when mixed with honey does good to the lungs and chest. A decoction of mustard seed in wine resists the force of poison, malignity of mushrooms, and the venom of scorpions; when taken alone or mixed with other things [unidentified] mustard stirs up bodily lust, helps the spleen and pains in the sides, and gnawings in the bowels. If applied externally mustard dissolves swellings in the throat, helps relieve the pain of sciatica, gout, and other joint aches. The blisters raised by so doing will cure these diseases by drawing it to the outward parts of the body. Mustard seeds can be chewed to help toothache; stop hair loss; and when the seeds are bruised and mixed with honey or combined with wax such applications will remove the spots of bruises and improve the roughness or scabbiness of the skin. Mustard applications help treat leprosy and the lousy evil (lice infestations). A gargle of mustard seed prepared with distilled water helps cure diseases of the throat, and when applied outwardly will cure scabs, itch, or other infirmities; and will cleanse the face of spots, freckles, and other deformities. One of Culpeper’s legacies are his medicinal aphorisms; two of these consider mustard:
To purge the Head …
The head is purged by Gargarisms [archaic term for gargle], of which Mustard, in my opinion, is excellent, and therefore a spoonful of Mustard put into the mouth, is excellent for one that is troubled with the lethargy; also the head is purged by sneezing; but be sure if you would keep your brain clear, keep your stomach clean.
Caution negative …
Let such as are troubled with red faces, abstain from salt meats, salt fish and herrings, drinking of strong beer, strong waters or Wine, Garlick, Onions, and Mustard.
Throughout much of Europe mustard was sold as a semi-dry ball, not a sauce. During the 19th century in Europe and America mustard seeds were ground and sniffed; the violent sneezing that resulted was thought to purge the brain. In Christianity a mustard seed is considered a symbol of faith; the mustard flower forms a cross and recalls the crucifixion of Christ. Throughout rural India mustard symbolizes growth and generation. Numerous traditions hold that mustard stimulates the salivary glands and helps digestion. Medieval accounts praise mustard as a remedy to treat scorpion bites.
(Summarized from: Gerarde, 1597, pp. 189-191; Culpeper, 1653, pp. 124-125, 395, and 397; Skinner, 1911, pp. 186-187;Colin, 1962, p. 61; Northcote, 1971, pp. 33-34; Darby, Ghalioungui, and Grivetti, 1997, Vol. 2. p. 804; Grivetti, 2004, p. 96).