Tiny mustard seeds hold so much magic. When the fires die down, and ash remains, the first autumn rains grace the earth, waking the tiniest of seeds, perhaps even the ones buried deep in the ground, silent and undisturbed for a quarter or more of a century. They push through the ground, and fill the landscape with glorious, radiant blooms -- vital energy during the gloom of winter.
Is mustard a weed, or a warrior plant?
In California, the spectacle of the non-native Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) can be admired or abhorred (depending on whoever's perspective) during the winter, and all throughout spring. Mustard is considered a weed, an invasive plant out of place, in agricultural settings, and in areas of native plant conservation. Black mustard's ability to germinate and grow quickly is a threat to native plants (the plant produces allelopathic chemicals that prevent other plants from germinating), as well as a fire hazard in California chaparral (by adding fuel mass) - but it's this ability to grow quickly that some vineyard owners in Napa Valley find attractive!
In a vineyard, mustard serves a purpose as a beneficial overcrop, with a large tap root that aerates soil, mines minerals from the deeper parts of the earth, and provides erosion control. Mustard is also a natural fumigant (containing glucosinolates), preventing nematodes (microscopic worms) from damaging vines. In this case, mustard is strategically placed in a situation, and is not considered a weed. It is mustard's aggressive approach to survival, outcompeting many plants (including natives) that defines it as an invasive weed.
Yet, despite mustard's status as a weed, there is still so much to appreciate and learn from this plant.
Black mustard is an edible plant and a medicinal. Mustard greens are a great source of vitamins and minerals, are incredibly high in antioxidants, and also an excellent source of tyrosine (the precursor to the "feel good" neurotransmitter dopamine). Mustard greens are a pungent bitter herb: when cooked and eaten (or tinctured), the bitter greens can promote digestive health. The spicy seeds and oil are popular in the culinary world, in sauces or used whole.
In herbal remedies, the seeds can be turned into a poultice (a thick paste known as a "mustard plaster") and used topically as a mild counterirritant to localise blood flow and decrease inflammation (these actions could be useful in pain-relief for inflamed tendons and muscles). In the medical world, compounds found in mustard seeds have been studied for their ability to prevent and decrease cancer cells (in fact, the first chemotherapy began with studies of mustard).
How do we cultivate the elusive spiritual essence of black mustard?
Visit a patch of mustard, and use your senses to connect. In the field, I sway along with the tall golden ripples of flowering mustard. A tug at a mustard green inspires me to practice my own assertive willpower. I gain a deeper wisdom of plants by allowing myself sometimes to see through an anthropomorphic lens - I look deep into the field or the plant, like a hall of mirrors. It is through these projections, that I connect, and learn. I embrace this practice for personal teachings, and to strengthen my relationship with plants.
Black mustard. She is a traveler. Four petals, four directions. Her roots have seen the deepest, darkest, depths of the earth. Through sheer willpower, she survives. She stands firm, tall, unbreakable. Her vibrant, mighty blooms signal perseverance over deep-rooted trauma. Through the darkness, she has found her inner-light. Through her travels, she's learned to acclimate, adapt, and transform. This is her wisdom, this is her art. She parades across the land, an example of resilience, a guiding light through darkness. Even from ashes, she still will rise, to kiss the land, and dispel the gloom, she herself a glorious blaze. She is fierce. She is wise. She is a warrior.