Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
At this time of year, nearly every plant that I look at seems tired and worn, as if hanging on desperately waiting for spring to come. So imagine my surprise to find this plant looking green and new and ready to flower. Furthermore, it came with its own little green caterpillar attached, which I didn’t notice until somebody pointed it out to me. This is Hedge Mustard, and I think that its three-lobed leaves look a little like peacocks in flight, or even angels.
Hedge Mustard is a member of the Brassicaceae, or cabbage family, and its leaves are edible, though the wonderful Permaculture website suggests using them in a stir-fry rather than raw. It also has a long history as an ‘Official’ herb of apothecaries (hence it’s Latin name, Officinale). Hedge Mustard was considered by the Greeks to be the cure for all poisons, and in Tibetan medicine it is used to help in cases of food poisoning.
Hedge Mustard is considered particularly useful for throat ailments – one alternative name is ‘Singer’s Plant’. In my ‘day job’ I am an IT Trainer, and so I spend a lot of time trying to teach people to use some financial software. Much of this involves persuading people not to do a particular thing, or press a particular button. As soon as I have said this, someone is always drawn irresistibly to do what I’ve asked them not to. I am sure that the slightly shouty aftermath of these events is one of the causes of my occasional voice loss, which results in my having to make do with gesticulation and sad little raspy noises, much like a snake with laryngitis. I have therefore made a note of exactly where this patch of Hedge Mustard is, lest I need to gather some leaves and mix them with honey or sugar to make a syrup to restore me to my usual emphatic self.
I must confess that I had some difficulty in identifying this plant, and had to call in some help from the British Wild Flowers Facebook group. The consensus is that it is most likely Hedge Mustard, but could possibly be something slightly more interesting and obscure – Sisymbrium loeselii or False London Rocket. However, as the leaves are practically identical, I am going with the most likely identification, and if it turns out to be something rarer I will let you know. Plants in leaf are often a little tricky. There isn’t so much of a problem once the plant is in full flower.One difficulty with identification is that the shape of the leaves changes so drastically as the plant ages. A mature plant might spend the winter as a mere whirl of leaves before breaking into exuberant growth. If you look at the photograph above, you can see how the characteristic ‘angel’ shape of the lower leaves has changed into something much more elongated. I will go back to visit ‘my’ plant later in the year to see how it is metamorphosing. The more I learn, the more I realise what I don’t know. It’s as if I am climbing an endless hilly landscape – every time I get to the top, new areas ripe for investigation appear. But oh, how I love the view! And, for anyone curious about the caterpillar in the first photograph, this is what it will look like when it grows up…