The mustard tree has influenced our culture for many centuries. It is classified as an evergreen shrub by horticulturalists. It is also known as the toothbrush tree from the Salvadoraceae family.
This article provides you all the factual information you need to know about the mustard tree. For example, identification, features, and where the mustard seed comes from.
It also explores the cultural and religious connotations of the mustard tree.
A great tidbit for your next dinner party!
Salvadora perisica is a scientific name for the mustard tree. It can either be a mustard bush or mustard tree. It’s the same thing.
Where Does it Grow?
It originated in Iran (Persia at the time). It grows throughout Africa, India, and the Middle East. In the USA, it grows in USDA hardiness zones seven to 11.
What are the Dimensions?
The mustard tree is just under 25 feet, with three to 11 and a half inch leaves.
Its height is usually between six and 20 feet. It can also go up to 30 feet, but this happens more rarely.
What Conditions Does it Need to Grow?
The mustard tree grows really slowly, and its growth depends on the environment it lives in.
The tree likes to grow in damp conditions, near water sources such as rivers or waterholes.
In fact, it has water-seeking roots!
So, don’t plant them near underground systems, as the mustard tree’s roots can cause damage.
But, it can also survive with only rain as a source of hydration, on less than 8 inches of rainfall per year.
After all, it grows in extremely hot conditions and has to survive dry soil.
They prefer growing in hot weather, under full sun. Ideally, in clay-based soil, but they can handle medium sun intensity and exposure.
They only grow outdoors in the US Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10a through 11.
Branches and Leaves
The mustard tree has multistemmed drooping branches. The leaves are yellowish-green, oval, and have the same texture as a succulent.
The tree’s leaves are between one to three inches long, and each leaf is arranged in sets of two, opposite each branch. They are dark green at first, and as the tree ages, they become lighter green.
Each year, tiny yellow flowers grow on the tip of the branches, which transform into small fruit that look like little berries. This fruit is reddish-pink,” with purple seeds, and makes the mustard tree easy to identify.
Salvadora Perisica vs Nicotiana Glauca
Salvadora perisica, as established previously, is the name for the mustard tree.
Nicotiana glauca can also sometimes be referenced as “the mustard tree”, maybe because of its yellow-tinted flowers.
Nicotiana glauca is actually the scientific name for tree tobacco, so it has nothing to do with the mustard tree, except sometimes with its name.
The tree tobacco can reach up to 20 feet, has greyish-blue leaves, and is highly toxic.
Can You Eat Anything from The Mustard Tree?
The mustard tree offers tasty edible leaves that taste just like mustard. Goats and camels like to eat them for their moisture, and people can eat them too when the leaves are tender!
It also offers fruit, which comes from the flowers which grow between January and April. They are two to 5 inch long small green/yellow tinted flowers.
After the pollination of the flower, the flowers grow into pea-sized brown fruits, which contain a single seed.
The fruit of the mustard tree tastes sweeter than the leaves but has a stronger taste than the leaves. You can eat it either raw, cooked, or dried.
The Punjab region makes sweets from the fruit’s seeds, which apparently tastes like currants.
Mustard seeds come from the mustard plant. These seeds are some of the smallest in the world and have been an important part of the history of spices.
The different types of mustard trees produce different seeds:
- White mustard tree: it creates tiny round seeds, good for mild seasoning, pickling, and flavoring.
- Brown mustard tree: it creates hard round seeds, just like the below, but has less taste. It’s often used in fried foods.
- Black mustard tree: it also creates hard round seeds and is a bit spicier than the white ones and has the same usage.
Mustard seeds are some of the smallest in the world and have been an important part of the history of spices.
How Do You Grow a Mustard Seed into a Mustard Tree?
Even if mustard seeds don’t come from the mustard tree, you can grow a mustard tree from a mustard fruit seed.
Prep the Seed
To do this, first proceed to soak the mustard fruit seed in lukewarm water. Do this for one to three days until the pulp has a runny texture.
Then, strain the pulp with a cloth to collect little brown seeds, keeping them moist, removing the pulp.
Press the seeds into damp sand in a container. Within 24 hours, you should have germination. It helps to keep the sand at 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Afterward, grow the germinated seeds into nursery pots.
Also, you should wait until your tree is three years old, as mustard trees are slow to grow, before transplanting your tree outside in the garden.
Make sure you clear your garden from weeds and make sure the roots of the future tree can grow into your soil.
Plant the Seed
Plant the mustard seeds 12 to 15 feet apart or closer if the soil is saline. Water the bush weekly during the first summer for good roots growth. But stop during fall, so it gets used to periods of dry soil and gets more robust and resistant.
Most importantly, don’t overwater your mustard tree! Otherwise, bacteria and fungal bacterial can grow from the wet soil. Make sure that your soil is always completely dry before watering it again, and never water when the weather is not sunny.
Watch for witches’ broom, a branch infection caused by fungi, which is the branch’s and the tree’s death. Use shears dipped in alcohol while pruning to avoid that.
Also, be wary of insects, as they can damage the mustard tree. Prune the branches when needed, and if you need to use insecticidal soap, wear protective gloves and clothes.
Oral Health and The Mustard Tree
Salvadora persica stick, aka miswak, is a popular antibacterial tooth-cleaning aid in the Arabic world. It’s especially popular in Muslim communities. It was used by ancient Arabs to polish and whiten their teeth.
To “brush” their teeth, people used to chew on the stick’s inner fibers. There is peelu in those fibers, which is an ingredient often used in alternative toothpaste, such as ayurvedic toothpaste.
Oral Health and The Mustard Plant
The mustard plant is in fact a powerful oral health aid. Mustard oil comes from the seed of the mustard plant and is beneficial to your oral tissues and to maintain good oral hygiene, which is great!
You can use mustard oil to look after your teeth with salt.
The Religious Symbolic of the Mustard Tree
The mustard tree has deep religious meaning in Christianity, as some believe it is the source of the mustard seed in the Bible. It occurs in the parables of Mark, Peter, and Luke.
Gospel of Luke
In the Scripture, especially in the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the mustard seed compares God’s kingdom to a mustard seed grain. A man planted the seed in his own garden, which turned out to be a big tree:
“What is God’s Kingdom like? To what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and put in his own garden. It grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the sky live in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19)
It could reference that God’s kingdom and the church of Christ started out small and ended large, just like that mustard seed.
Meaning of The Metaphor
Also, in Matthew 17:20, Jesus says: “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
This metaphor means that if you have faith in Jesus, you can accomplish everything and nothing is impossible.
You have to be like a mustard seed. You can start from very little and become very wide, just like a mustard seed grows into a tree.
If a mustard seed can become a large tree, you can also accomplish anything, even if it seems impossible.
The mustard tree or bush is an old tree, used in literature for centuries, but also used as food for animals and humans and for oral hygiene.
It doesn’t need much water to grow, and when it reaches its growth, it grows flowers which transforms into edible fruit after pollination. The mustard seeds come from the plant, which you can then use to flavor and season your dishes.
And, no matter what religion you are, you can meditate on the Bible’s metaphor of a wide tree growing from a small mustard seed. It seems impossible, but it’s possible.
Just like anything you set your mind to.