What Is Brassica Carinata?

C.B. Fox

Brassica carinata, which is also known as Ethiopian mustard or Abyssinian mustard, is a plant that is cultivated for its edible leaves. It is native to northeastern Africa and thrives in climates and soil types similar to those found in its native region. Unlike many other plants in the mustard family, wild Brassica carinata contains eurcic acid, which makes the seeds and the oil extracted from them mildly toxic.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

On average, the Brassica carinata grows to a height of about 3.3 feet (1 meter), though it can occasionally reach heights of up to 5.9 feet (1.8 meters). It is an annual and reaches maturity about 160 days after it is planted. Once it is mature, it produces light yellow flowers, each containing both male and female parts. Bees are the normal pollinator of the flowers, which produce fruits that are 2 inches (5 cm) long after 70 days. The plant dies a short while after it goes to fruit.

The leaves of the Brassica carinata are light green and have purple veins. The roots are strong which helps the plant stay upright when planted in sandy soil. It is relatively hardy and can thrive in many different types of soil, though young plants are not hardy with regard to temperature. Freezing temperatures can kill young plants and damage adult ones. The Brassica carinata requires moderate to heavy rainfall or watering and can thrive in partial or full sun.

The seeds of wild varieties of Brassica carinata contain eurcic acid, which is toxic if eaten. In domesticated varieties, the plants have been selectively bred so that they do not produce this acid. The seeds are used as a spice and produce a flavor similar to the flavor of other members of the mustard family. The leaves of the plant can be eaten raw when the plant is young or cooked when the plant ages. Brassica carinata sprouts may also be eaten whole and contain many nutrients.

In addition to being an edible crop, Brassica carinata has a number of other uses. Oil can be extracted from the seeds, which can be used in cooking, though it is more often used as a lubricant or water repellant. The pulp left over once the oil is extracted from the plant can be used as compost or fed to livestock.

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