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Ole King Cole
crops reach their peak during cool spring and fall weather.
We're talking here about Cruciferae, the mustard family.
Did you realize that broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower,
collards, kale, and kohlrabi are not just relatives, they are considered
different varieties of the same species: Brassica oleracea.
The edible part of the plant differs from leaves to stem (kohlrabi) to
flower buds, and the colors and shapes differ, but they all contain those
pungent mustard oils. Close
relatives in the genus Brassica include Chinese cabbage (B. pekinensis),
pak choi (B. chinensis), mustard greens (B. juncea), mustard
spinach (B. perviridis), some kales (B. napus) rutabaga (B.
napobrassica) and turnip (B. rapa).
A little more distant but still in the same mustard family are radish (Raphanus
sativus), watercress (Nasturtium officinale), garden cress or
peppergrass (Lepidium sativum), arugula or roquette (Eruca vesicaria),
and horseradish (Armoracia rusticana).
oils include a number of different compounds, and each species, indeed each
individual plant, has different amounts of the different compounds, accounting
for differences in flavor and potency. Many
of these compounds have been shown to be good anti-oxidants, and are helpful
in preventing cancer. There's a
good reason to eat your broccoli and arugula!
seeds are harvested to make the condiment of that name.
My copy of Joy of Cooking has a great recipe for making your own mustard
paste, which they claim has the added benefit of clearing your sinuses.
seed oil and canola oil also come from seeds of the mustard plant.
What pollinates mustard flowers so they produce seeds for oil and paste
for condiment? Why bees, of course.
speculate that the Cruciferae plants evolved mustard oils to prevent generalist
insects from feeding on them. Like
the poisonous alkaloids in plants of the nightshade family, the mustard oils are
a deterrent to many potential herbivores. Unfortunately,
a number of specialist insects have evolved ways to detoxify mustard oils, and
actually use these oils as cues for finding the plant.
Cabbage White butterflies, for example, have been cruising my broccoli
patch in large numbers this year. Earlier
in the season I treated the plant with lepidoptera-specific bacillus
thuringensis to control them, but by now it has worn off.
I find a number of green caterpillars when I wash the broccoli heads.
Hopefully they are washed away before the broccoli gets to your kitchen,
but a few may sneak through.
Not all mustards are crops.
There are some lovely plants for the garden such as dame's rocket,
candytuft, sweet alyssum and stocks. There
are also many notable weeds such as shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
and blue mustard (Chorispora tenella), which
give fields in the Treasure Valley a blue tinge in the spring.
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October 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002, Karen Strickler. All rights reserved.