Mustard Family

Compiled by Marc Williams                                May, 2018

Brassicaceae / Mustard Family/ Brassicales

A link to a photo album of members of the Brassicaceae can be seen a Thomas Elpel's site below


This family is crucial in any diet for vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, K, and the minerals calcium, iron, and magnesium (Van Wyk, 2005). Cook the greens lightly to preserve nutrients and save any pot liquor to retain water soluble elements.

Most members of the Mustard family are generally considered edible or choice. However, members of the Brassicaceae may uptake heavy metals. Therefore, don't collect in polluted areas. Some members may also uptake excess nitrates (Kingsbury, 1964).  Elpel states that nitrates are rarely a problem except for the very young (Citation). Wall flower (Erysimum cheiri) contains cardiac glycocides especially in the seeds (Wink & Van Wyk, 2008). Several members may also be too bitter to truly enjoy.


The now popular medicinal Maca is another species of Lepidium (Lepidium meyenii). Maybe amongst the multitude of other Lepidium species is a more local Maca substitute waiting to be discovered? Mustard plasters are another famous medicinal application but care must be taken not to burn the subject.


The Mustard family fosters a lot of insect activity. Bees work many members of the Brassica genus (Lovell, 1977). Members of the Brassicaceae may also bring some beneficial insects to the garden (McDonald, n.d.).  The mustard family hosts a number of pests including Flea Beetles (Phyllotreta spp.), Cabbage Looper (Trichoplusia ni), Imported Cabbage Worm (Pieris rapae), and Harlequin Bugs (Murgantia histrionica) (Cranshaw, 2004; Ellis & Bradley, 1996).

The Falcate Orangetip butterfly (Anthocharis midea) is supported by the Brassicaceae family in general and the Rockcress (Arabis) genus in particular (Tallamy, 2009). Siberian Wallflower (Erysimum hieraciifolium) attracts several butterflies including whites, blues, and swallowtails Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is noted as a crucial nectar plant for butterflies in the Spring when little else is around (Lewis, 1995).


Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a serious exotic pest plant which i have heard verbally from several sources is alleleopathic. However, at least one study may dispute that (Scott, 2010). Either way it is edible, medicinal, and apparently a general nectar producer for bees, butterflies, moths and flies (Scott, 2010). i would wonder about its potential to take up heavy metals due to its place in the Brassicaceae.

 Many other species readily naturalize and are prevalent in disturbed areas including Cress (Barbarea vulgaris), Dame's rocket (Hesperis matronalis), Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and (Rorippa sylvestris) (Miller, Chambliss, & Bargeron, 2006).  Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) can be very pervasive in the garden and should be put in a long term place due to its tendency to spread by roots as well as prolific seeds.


The Mustard family has many members that have been used as dye plants including:

Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003),

Kale, Collards etc. (Brassica oleracea) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003, 2003).

Wallflower (Cheiranthes cheiri) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003),

Woad (Isatis tinctoria) (Buchanan, 1995; J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003, 2003),

Poor person's pepper (Lepidium ruderale) (Buchanan, 1995),

Stock (Matthiola incana) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003, 2003), and

Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003).



Many plants in the Brassicaceae make exceptional cut flowers fresh or dry. Species of Dame's rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and Honesty (Lunaria spp.) have pretty purple flowers. Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri) has a bright orange flower. The seed pods of various species are very ornamental when dry. Some of my favorites include Field Penny Cress (Thlaspi arvense), Shepard's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), Poor person’s pepper (Lepidium spp.) and Honesty (Lunaria  spp.).

Literature Cited

Buchanan, R. (1995). A Dyer’s Garden : From Plant to Pot: Growing Dyes for Natural Fibers. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press.

Cannon, J., & Cannon, M. (2003). Dye Plants and Dyeing. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Cranshaw, W. (2004). Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ellis, B. W., & Bradley, F. M. (Eds.). (1996). The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control: A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden & Yard Healthy Without Chemicals. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.

Kingsbury, J. M. (1964). Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Lewis, A. (Ed.). (1995). Butterfly Gardens. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Lovell, H. B. (1977). Honey Plants. (L. R. Goltz, Ed.) (Rev ed.). Medina, OH: Gleanings in Bee Culture.

McDonald, R. (n.d.). Bug Site. Farmscaping. Retrieved April 26, 2009, from

Miller, J. H., Chambliss, E. B., & Bargeron, C. (2006, January). Invasive Plants of the Thirteen Southern States. Invasive and Exotic Species of North America. Retrieved March 10, 2008, from

Scott, T., L. (2010). Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Tallamy, D. (2009). Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Updated Ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Wink, M., & Van Wyk, B.-E. (2008). Mind-Altering and Poisonous Plants of the World (1st ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Van Wyk, B.-E. (2005). Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press.



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