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  • Writer's pictureOrion Aon

Foraging Tumble Mustard, Sisymbrium altissimum

Updated: May 22

There are a lot of mustard species out there. Around 4,000 spread across 370 genera in the mustard family. None are toxic, but many are not great to eat because of strong or overly bitter flavors. The most well-known species is Brassica oleracea, though many probably don’t even know they know it! This species can be found in every grocery store in the form of broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and more! Tumble mustard is not like those grocery store staples. It’s closer to broccoli rabe (rapini), Brassica rapa var. ruvo, with that bitter and hot mustard funk, but I think it’s still a great edible wild plant that should be on your foraging radar. Here's everything you need to know about foraging tumble mustard, including a simple recipe for tumble mustard rapini at the end!

A handful of tumble mustard flower bud stalks.
A handful of tumble mustard rapini. Flower bud stalks.


Tumble mustard, Sisymbrium altissimum, is a medium to large annual mustard. It begins as a basal rosette with lanceolate compound leaves that look deeply lobed. The leaflets are simple and slightly toothed. Towards the base of the leaf, they are separated, but they become more connected towards the tip. The leaves on the flowering stalk are smaller, feathery-looking, and linearly lobed.

The basal rosette of tumble mustard.
Tumble mustard starts its life as a basal rosette of compound leaves.

The flower stalk is often branched and has clusters of flower buds that resemble broccoli rabe. They open to reveal four-petaled, yellow flowers with the characteristic six stamens of most mustard plants; four stamens are tall, and two are short. The flowers quickly become long, narrow seed pods. At maturity, tumble mustard detaches from the ground, allowing the wind to help tumble it along, dispersing many small brown seeds.

The yellow flowers of tumble mustard.
The flowers a tumble mustard. A close inspection will reveal six stamens. Two short and four long.

Range & Habitats

Tumble mustard is native to the Mediterranean Basin but has naturalized throughout most of the world. It is considered a weed throughout much of its naturalized range and tends to grow in areas of human disturbance. It is a very common yard and garden weed is often pervasive in agricultural settings and other areas where its tumbling seed dispersal is especially effective. Here in Colorado, I often see it in fields, pastures, and empty lots where plants could have easily tumbled through, dropping their seeds.

A top-down view of tumble mustard beginning to bolt.
Tumble mustard sends up flower stalks with feathery lobed leaves and broccoli-like flower buds.

Potential Look-alikes

The information in the description above should be enough to properly identify tumble mustard. However, look-alike information is regularly requested, so here are some possible species that could be confused with tumble mustard. This list is not comprehensive and may not be relevant to your region. Remember only to eat wild foods once you're 100% confident in your identification and comfortable with trying something new.

  • Other species of Sisymbrium. Also safe to consume.

  • Other species of mustard before they flower. All are edible, though some are bitter or strong-tasting.

  • Dandelion, chicory, and other plants with lobed, lance-shaped leaves.

Tumble mustard stalks at the perfect stage to harvest.
Tumble mustard stalks at the perfect stage to harvest.


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Edibility & Foraging Tumble Mustard

On the flavor scale of wild mustard species, tumble mustard tends to be more bitter or hot. That chemical burning sensation that comes with some mustards, like horseradish, is apparent in tumble mustard, especially after it has started flowering. Cooking mellows out some of those flavors and brings out the typical broccoli and radish tastes that many mustards have. The leaves can become quite large and make a decent mustard green. I think they’re better when cooked. To harvest the leaves, look for plants that have not bolted yet. Check the leaves for dirt or insect damage, and harvest only clean leaves in good shape. Something you might pick out at the grocery store! These leaves can be snipped or broken from the plant.

A handful of tumble mustard leaves.
Large tumble mustard leaves make a decent cooked green, though they can be strong-tasting.

My favorite part to eat is the tender flower stalks before blooming. They are similar to broccoli rabe (rapini) once blanched and sautéed. Look for plants with flower stalks that still have tightly closed buds. Young or smaller plants might just have a short stalk, but plants closer to flowering can have multiple stalks branching from the main stem. Pinch and break these talks off where they are still tender. This is usually just the top three to four inches.

After the plant flowers, their flavor can be even more intense, in my experience, but they are still edible. The long, narrow seed pods make an interesting pickle or caper. The small seeds can be used to make a mustard condiment and are easier to collect than some smaller mustard species. To collect the seeds, wait for the seed pods to dry out, then break away the stem and place it in a large paper bag. Break up the stem and pods to release the seeds and then remove the chaff.

The flowers and buds of tumble mustard.
These flowers will become long narrow seed pods.

Foraging Calendar

To learn more about the best seasons to harvest this species and many other wild foods, check out my Foraging Calendar & Wild Food Database! You can try the demo version to learn more, and join my Patreon to gain full access to the Foraging Calendar and other exclusive perks! Joining is the best way to support all the work I put into my content and website to help you learn about foraging! Thank you for checking it out!

A screenshot of my Foraging Calendar.

Recipe: Tumble Mustard Rapini

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