Foraging for wild food and medicinal plants - Hedge Mustard Plant Profile

Sisymbrium officinale wall.JPGHedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale) is a plant in the Brassicacaea family: The brassica family contains fantastic plants for foragers. They are a completely edible family, providing a number of medicinally valuable foods for us, all year round. Many different species can be found in the garden or allotment, and just as likely on your way there! If you like the peppery flavour in the different 'rockets' (Eruca and Diplotaxis spp), then you may love this commonly found plant.

Hedge mustard can pack quite a pungent, peppery punch, dependent on where it's found, and the time of year. Apothecary physicians regularly employed this plant as an official medicine during the 17th and 18th centuries, as its name - 'officinale' points to.

Getting to know hedge mustard

This particular brassica is an annual, although as these 'rules' aren't set in stone, it will often be seen acting as a biennial, overwintering as a rosette of leaves, before flowering the following year. Timing of germination will dictate matters to a large extent.

In keeping with many herbaceous plants, hedge mustard's leaves will appear different at the rosette stage, compared to during flowering. Alongside the obvious elongation of the stem as a plant grows higher and produces flowering organs, the leaf shape and form can also drastically alter during the metamorphosis from juvenile to adult.

The basal leaves are deeply pinnately-lobed and typically grow to around 15-20cm long, ending with a large terminal lobe. The whole plant feels somewhat coarse and hairy to the touch. Crushing or nibbling a leaf will instantly release the characteristic brassica flavour! During flowering, the alternately-spaced stem leaves reduce in size, and increasingly become more refined in shape, eventually looking like an arrowhead towards the top of the stem. A mature hedge mustard plant can typically grow to a height of around 60-70cm.

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