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Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 47 acres of botanical bliss fronting the Pacific Ocean

Edible Mustard Greens

Add a bit of bite to your salads or stir fries!

Botanical Name: Brassica juncea; B. rapa Common Name: Edible Mustard Greens Family: Brassicaceae 

Description: Mustards belong in the plant genus Brassica which includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, radish, turnip, kale, collards, and rapeseed. For further details about these relationships, see http://oregonstate.edu/dept/hort/233/brassicaceae.htm.

Two species of Brassica are commonly referred to as edible mustard greens: B. rapa and B. juncea. A number of varietals of B. rapa and half a dozen different cultivars of B. juncea are readily available in seed catalogs and local nurseries. All of these are easy-to-grow, cool-weather annuals that can be harvested all year round in the coastal areas of Mendocino County and from fall to spring in the inland areas of Mendocino County. Mustard species are grown for seed (used in making the condiment "mustard") and for edible leaves which can be eaten raw (for example, in salads) or cooked. This page will cover those mustard varieties that are grown for their edible leaves.

Cultivation: Mustard greens are fast growing, cold weather annuals. They can be grown all year round along the coasts in Mendocino County. For a year round supply of greens, plant a new short row every 2 to 3 weeks throughout the year. You can start harvesting individual leaves from each plant about 3 weeks after planting and can continue until the plant starts to bolt, which may be as long as 8 weeks after planting, but may occur sooner in hot weather. Select a bed that is in full sun along the coast or partial shade inland.

Varieties: (Brassica rapa): 'perviridis,' commonly called Spinach Mustard or Tah Tsai 'japonica,' commonly called Mizuna 'chinensis,' commonly called Chinese Mustard or Pak Choi (Brassica juncea): 'Green Wave', 'Red Giant', 'Curly', 'Southern Giant', 'Golden Streaks', 'Osaka Purple', and many more.

Propagation and Harvest: From planting seed to harvesting leaves can be as short as 21 days, and at most 50 days. Seeds can be planted directly or seedlings planted out whenever the soil temperature is above 40-degrees F. Once established, mustards will produce edible leaves even when temperatures drop into the 30s. Optimal temperatures during the growing and harvesting period are under 75-degrees F. Mustards bolt and become bitter in hot weather. Seeds can be planted directly outdoors or greenhouse seedlings can be planted out whenever the soil is 40-degrees F, or above. Plant seeds about 1/4-inch deep using the spacing described on the seed package. Seeds can emerge in 2 days, but may take up to two weeks in colder weather. Prepare the seed bed with plenty of compost or manure. Ensure that the bed contains nitrogen to promote fast, healthy leaf growth (for example, alfalfa meal, soybean meal, cottonseed meal, feather meal, blood meal, fish meal, hoof-and-horn meal). Mustards prefer fertile, well-drained soil, although they will grow in a wide variety of soil conditions. Start harvesting individual outer leaves from each plant as soon as you see many new leaves pushing out from the center of the plant. Once you have started harvesting from a plant, trim away any unusable outer leaves that have become tough, weather beaten, or bug eaten. This will promote rapid growth of the new leaves from the center. When a plant starts to bolt, pull it up completely, unless you want to collect the seeds for subsequent planting.

Recipes and Nutrition: Mustard greens are highly nutritious. A cup of cooked mustard greens contains over 50% of the daily requirement for vitamins K, A, and C, and over 10% of the daily requirement for dietary folate, manganese, vitamin E, calcium, and dietary fiber. It also provides 3.2 grams of protein. All of this for only 21 calories! - Use young, tender leaves in salads. Mustard leaves are especially good when mixed with other salad greens, since they add tiny bites of spicy interest as well as gorgeous color to the salad. - Stir fry a large pile of chopped mustard leaves in a small amount of oil until wilted, then add a tablespoon (or so) of vinegar or lime juice and put a lid onto the pan to steam the greens until completely soft. Be forewarned that cooking reduces the volume significantly; to serve 2 cups of cooked greens, start with about a quart of chopped greens. Optional other ingredients: salt, garlic, onion. Serve like cooked spinach. - Throw a hand-full of chopped leaves into soup during the last 5 minutes of cooking. - Use in place of spinach in almost any recipe.

Submitted by Master Gardener Carlin Otto, 2007.