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  • Writer's pictureOrion Aon

Musk Mustard: Identification, Foraging, and Eating

Musk mustard gets a bad wrap because of its strong, musky scent and sometimes invasive nature in Western states. It also makes milk taste off when cows eat it. That’s not helping its case either. Let’s see if we can shed a better light on one of my favorite wild mustards!


Musk mustard in flower.
Musk mustard in flower. The tender tops and leaves are still tasty in this stage of growth!

Description


Musk mustard, Chorispora tenella, is a small, fast-growing annual in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. It begins as a basal rosette (a cluster of leaves radiating from a central point) with wavy to lobed, lanceolate leaves with sparse hairs. It quickly bolts, sending up a flowering stalk with smaller, more lanceolate leaves. These smaller leaves and the stalk are also sparsely hairy.


A close up of the leaves, stems, flowers, and seed pods of musk mustard.
The leaves and stems of musk mustard are sparsely hairy.

The flower buds are small, broccoli-like clusters that open to reveal small, cross-shaped purple-blue flowers with the characteristic six stamens of most mustard plants. Four of those stamens are tall, and two are short. The flowers quickly become narrow, pointed seed pods. The seeds are tiny and brown to dark brown.


A close up of the buds and flowers of musk mustard.
The pinched, four-petaled flowers of musk mustard. A closer look would reveal six stamens.

Range & Habitats


Musk mustard is native to Eurasia but is now common in many parts of the world. It is most well-known in Western North America, where it is considered an invasive or noxious weed. Musk mustard grows in areas of human disturbance and is a common yard and garden weed. It can be pervasive in agricultural settings as well. I often see musk mustard growing along sidewalks or driveways and around newer construction sites with recently disturbed soils in Colorado.


A musk mustard plant growing under some pine trees.
Musk mustard growing under some pine trees in a urban park.

Potential Look-alikes


The information in the description above should be enough to identify musk mustard properly. However, look-alike information is regularly requested, so here are some possible species that could be confused with musk 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 mustard before they flower. There are many, but they are all non-toxic.

  • Dandelion, chicory, wild lettuce, and chicory tribe members before flowering. These plants all have white sap.

  • Other plants with lobed, lance-shaped leaves. Once buds and flowers emerge, the difference should be apparent.


A comparison of leaves from shepherd's purse, musk mustard, dandelion, prickly lettuce.
Left to right: shepherd's purse, musk mustard, dandelion, prickly lettuce.
 

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Foraging Musk Mustard


Now, let's talk about foraging musk mustard! Like all mustards, the entire plant can be eaten! Musk mustard is one of the mustards that tastes pretty good and lacks a lot of the bitter or hot flavors that can be common in these plants. I prefer the leaves cooked, which brings out their nice earthy flavor. Once the plants have flowers, their flavor can be a little more mustardy or hot, but they are still edible. Harvest the tender leaves or flower stalks by pinching and breaking them with your finger and thumb or snipping them with scissors or a knife.


Broccoli-like flower buds and lance-shaped leaves of musk mustard.
The tender tops and leaves at this stage are great to harvest and cook whole!

The flowers can be plucked from the plants and used as a garnish to add a pop of color and some mild radish-like flavors to dishes. The immature, green seed pods make an interesting pickle, and the small seeds can be used to make a mustard condiment, but they are quite small. To harvest the seeds, collect the brown, dried plants before the pods open. Place them in a container or bag and break open the seed pods to release the seeds. Some chaff may need to be separated from the seeds.


Musk mustard seeds in various stages of maturity.
Musk mustard seeds in various stages of maturity.

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.

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