Sunday, March 19, 2006
Giant Red Japanese Mustard
This colorful and versatile ‘green’ can grow to 18” tall. The showy deep reddish purple savoy leaves are accented by pale green veins, margins, and undersides. Giant Red Japanese Mustard deserves a place in spring, fall, and winter gardens even if you don’t plan on eating your five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. With its bold leaves and splendid colors it is equally at home in the company of flowers, herbs, or vegetables.
Foodies will love the versatility of this colorful mustard. At each stage of growth it offers something for the kitchen. When the plants are young, the mild flavored leaves make an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches. The young leaves also make a brilliant garnish, especially when combined with a few edible flowers and a sprig or two of curled parsley.
Later, when the leaves are large they have lots more bite. When raw, they taste exactly like wasabi. Cooking mellows them, but if you like hot stuff, use them raw in salads, coleslaws, and other dishes. They can be used to make a pesto that may clear up your spring time hay fever in a jiffy, just by sheer heat. (Whiz up a cup or two of raw red mustard greens with a little olive oil in a food processor. You can fancy up and cool down your pesto with crushed walnuts, pine nuts, or ricotta cheese. Start with a tablespoon of each of your additions. Add more, if you like, according to taste. And don’t forget a little salt. Serve on crackers or pasta. And pass the Kleenex please.)
Cooked the mustard still retains lots of flavor, but the heat is curbed. A single large leaf will add deep green color and rich flavor to a pot of soup. The flavor complements other greens such as kale, collards, cabbage, and chard. It goes well with onions, garlic, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and all the common ingredients of soups and stews. Nutritionists have long touted the benefits of dark leafy green vegetables. You can’t get much darker than this giant red mustard. If you are after the nutritional benefits of the dark leafy greens you can’t go wrong. Mustard can be steamed, wilted, sautéed, or prepared like any other green. How about a spicy mustard dip instead of spinach? (In fact if you suffer from migraines you might consider replacing all spinach, chard, and beet greens with low amine mustards and kales. You might even feel better!)
When summer comes mustard will bolt, flower and set seed. The spicy flowers and young seed pods are edible and excellent in salads. The flowers can also be used as edible garnishes, and frozen in ice cubes to dress up spicy tomato based drinks. The pods can be added to mixed steamed vegetables, soups, and stir fries. Even the stalk is edible, if peeled. It makes a spicy crunchy celery substitute. However, don’t cut all your mustards stalks. Leave some to set seed for next seasons crop.
Giant Red Japanese Mustard is easy to grow. Nurseries seldom stock young plants so you may have to start with seed. It’s a Brassica, which makes it related to cabbage, broccoli, and radishes. Their seeds are not as fussy about temperature as are some other vegetables. Seeds can be sown in any garden soil, or in 6 packs in a sunny window or on a bright porch. Just keep the soil moist and out of direct frost. In about a week to ten days (if not sooner) you should see cheery little seedlings beginning to grow. There is no need to wait until after the last frost. You can start your mustard seed as long as he weather stays cool.
Like all seedlings this red mustard is susceptible to damage and decimation by our constant adversary, the lowly garden slug. If you’re gardens are hounded by this scourge, you will have the best luck starting your seeds indoors. Once the seedlings have reached a few inches in height, and have begun to develop the mustards characteristic bite, the slugs will probably move on in search of milder fare. (“Hey, isn’t there some iceberg lettuce around here somewhere?”) If the vile creatures continue to attack your plants, hand picking mornings and evenings is helpful, as are pie pans full of cheap beer. Slugs will often volunteer to drown themselves in the brew, even if it is stale and flat. For more information on discouraging slugs, please see my post on Slug Control.
It takes about a month from transplanting until you can begin picking your first leaves. Plants started now will continue to produce until hot weather arrives. If you find you enjoy the Giant Red Japanese Mustard as much as I do, you will also want to grow some for summer time use. Plants started in late May or June will need to be planted on the north side of the house, or another spot where they will have shade for most of the day. You may need to make successive sowings because the heat of summer encourages them to flower quickly instead of growing a continuous crop of leaves. They will need ample summertime water to coax them along.
Giant Mustard is also productive when planted in the fall. Fall plantings provide very welcome fresh greens all winter. Their spiciness is a bonus at a time when many other herbs are dormant. And their bold colorful leaves can brighten dreary and dormant flower beds. And now I know you are wanting to get some for yourself! You probably know just the spot that needs a colorful and tasty accent . . .
Seeds for Giant Red Japanese Mustard are available through many mail order seed catalogs. They are a bit unusual and may not be in stock at your local nursery, but it never hurts to ask. If you don’t find them locally or in any of your seed catalogs, they can be ordered by mail or on line from: http://www.evergreenseeds.com/
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