By: Justin Butts
Mustard greens are an unsung hero of the Coastal Bend winter garden. While kale, cabbage, and other brassicas are lovingly planted, mustard greens, due to their spicy flavor, are often ignored. But this spicy flavor, as well as the durability and rapid growth of mustard plants, are just the reason to grow them. Mustard greens have been an essential dish in India for thousands of years, because they add so much flavor to curries, soups, and lentil dishes.
Mustard has been grown in Europe for at least 2,000 years. Before the Silk Road began moving spices in bulk from the Orient in the 1400s, mustard was one of the only spices that could be locally grown in Europe. European courts employed a full-time “mustardarius” whose sole job was to produce mustard for the table.
Mustard the condiment is made by grinding mustard seeds and mixing them with water to trigger the enzyme reaction that creates the unique taste. Adding vinegar or wine to the paste allows that mustard flavor to be preserved in a jar.
But mustard greens are the real attraction for Coastal Bend gardeners during winter. The new leaves on mustard plants are tender and mild in winter salads. As the leaves grow, their bitterness and toughness increase, making them perfect for stir-fry, soups, or curry dishes. Once the weather warms in the spring, the mustard plants will shoot stalks with gorgeous yellow flowers and prolific seed pods. Carefully cut open the pods to remove the seeds.
A Need-to-Know Basis
Spacing, 6” to 15”. Full sun. Well-drained soil. Add plenty of organic compost to soil. Grows easily from seed sowed 1” apart into garden; thin to spacing and eat thinnings. Mulch with native leaves to protect soil. Take frequent cuttings (no more than 1/3 of leaves at a time). Warm winters can cause early aphid and harlequin bug attacks. Treat aphids with ladybugs and pinch harlequin bugs. Healthy soil (strong plants) deters these pests.
New mustard leaves are tender and mild. Bigger leaves are tougher and spicier. Each mustard plant will continually offer new leaves until spring. By cutting often, new growth is encouraged. In spring, warm weather will trigger mustard to flower and go to seed. The yellow flowers are a spicy delicacy; add to salads or to garnish fish. The seed pods can be cooked whole for powerful flavor or cut open for seeds.
Mustard greens are delicious when sauteed with onions and garlic. They also add a peppery bite to stews and pasta. I love throwing them in my scrambled eggs or on top of a pizza as soon as it comes out of the oven. – Kayla Butts
In spring (usually early March), mustard will be attacked by aphids and flea beetles. This simply means the cool season is over and the mustard will soon go to seed. Protect your mustard from these pests by companion planting turnips nearby as an insect trap crop—these pests will attack the turnip greens first, giving you time to harvest your pristine mustard. You can then kill these pests on the turnip greens using organic methods and still harvest the turnip roots!