Before people began eating mustard, it was used for medicinal purposes. French monks were known to use mustard to treat their wounds while Greeks used it to relieve muscles, cure toothaches and stimulate appetite and digestion.
Mustard plasters were a traditional remedy for aches and pains – you put wet mustard powder on a dressing and bind it on to the affected part to warm the muscle; this was the first thing they did to treat Abraham Lincoln after he was shot. Leaving the plaster on too long can cause blistering.
People also used to pour mustard into their bathwater, believing it to be good for the circulation and for arthritis. The mustard was thought to draw out toxins and warm the muscles, blood and body. It was a standard medical practice up until the first part of the twentieth century. The US National Museum of Mustard in Middleton, Wisconsin asserts that bathing in mustard is an English custom to this day.
You can carry out a worm census by pouring diluted mustard into holes in the ground. The mustard irritates worms - although it doesn't do them any harm - and forces them to the surface where researchers can assess their numbers - and other things about them. For example: it turns out that there are no native earthworms in most of North America. Wiped out in an ice age over 10,000 years ago, they were re-introduced in the rootballs of imported European plants in the 17th century; today, virtually all American earthworms north of Pennsylvania are non-native.
Colman’s sponsored Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic on the Discovery (1901-4), donating 1.5 tons of mustard, both for eating and for bathing in, we suppose. On his final, fatal expedition to the South Pole (1910-12) Scott’s sponsors provided him with Oxo cubes, Bovril, Huntley & Palmer’s biscuits, Fry’s chocolate, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Heinz Baked Beans and Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade.
Shackleton took Colman’s mustard with him to the South Pole on his Nimrod expedition (1907-9).
Mustard's no good without roast beef.
‘Mustard Gas’ has no mustard in it and isn’t a gas – it’s a liquid, dispersed as an aerosol. It got the name because it was yellow brown and smelled like mustard because of the sulphur it contained. It was used on men in the trenches in WWI with devastating effects. Because mustard gas can be absorbed through the skin, gas masks were useless. Even fully clothed soldiers weren’t fully protected. It could take up to six weeks to die from mustard gas, and it was a terrible way to die.
With WWII looming, research began to find an antidote to mustard gas. Two doctors at Yale University, Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman, looked into the records of soldiers poisoned by mustard gas and noticed they had particularly low white blood cell counts. They postulated that if it could kill healthy white blood cells, it should also be able to kill cancerous ones. They tried it, it worked, and that was beginning of the development of chemotherapy.
‘Tis ever thus with simple folk – an accepted wit has but to say ‘Pass the mustard’, and they roar their ribs out!
There is Chinese mustard called zha cai which has a knobbly swollen stem. In China it is usually pickled, and is one of the country's most popular convenience foods.
The Chinese government is using zha cai's regional sales figures as an index to help them track migrant workers across the nation.
Pickled zha cai is a staple of the working-class diet and its sales in any given urban area are pretty stable. If there’s a sudden local lift in sales figures, it means there's been an influx of workers and, if sales drop, it means the migrant workers have moved on.
This is crucial information in a country where up to one-in-five people are migrant workers, and therefore authorities need all the help they can get in planning for school numbers, public transport, hospitals etc.
It's traditional for German brides to sew mustard seeds into the hem of their wedding dresses to assure their dominance in the household.
In the middle ages in England, the word 'mustarde' meant condiment.
Mustards are all members of the cabbage family.
Medieval courts often employed a 'mustardius', who was an official in charge of supervising the growing and serving of mustard.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, mustard balls became a popular snack in England.
Made up of coarse-ground mustard seeds combined with flour and cinnamon, they were moistened, rolled into balls, and dried.
The town of Tewkesbury was known for its mustard balls.
Mustard seeds were thrown into Tutankhamun’s tomb at his funeral as they were thought to bring good fortune in the next life.
King Louis XI of France is said to have traveled with his own royal mustard pot, in case his hosts didn't serve it.
Queen Victoria loved mustard so much, she appointed a mustard merchant as her own private mustard maker in 1866.
English mustard is bright yellow due to the addition of turmeric.