Black Mustard: the spice of life

Like dandelion-type flowers, yellow members of the cabbage family (or cruciferae) can also be a challenge in the field. Quite often it is the seeds that help distinguish between the various similar species. Most members of this family, also known as brassicas of course, flower up the stem in sequence so you get active flowers at the top and below the seeds formed from earlier flowers and these seeds can give you a vital clue. In black mustard (Brassica nigra) the seed pods turn upwards and run very close to the stem which, although not unique to this species, it is a help.
Black mustard is certainly a weed of cultivation and can be found on disturbed ground almost anywhere but it seems to favour coastal areas, especially sea cliffs, and that is where I have generally found it in rough and ready areas on cliff tops. The books suggest that it also likes river banks and waste places so expect it anywhere! It is not common but where it occurs it can be all over the place.
This plant is grown as a crop for its seeds which are dark brown or black and are very spicy and are used in curry dishes. In some places they are used to create a cooking oil

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