The singers’ plant: this is the popular name given to hedge mustard, a wild plant found all over Europe. Opera singers have always sung its praises as a miracle remedy for throat disorders. Today, hedge mustard is also used in food preparations, where it stands out for its pungent flavour. In this article, we will shed light on its properties and present a recipe to fully appreciate them.
Hedge mustard, the singers’ plant loved by the chefs
Hedge mustard – Sisymbrium officinale (L.) Scopoli – belongs to the Brassicaceae family and grows throughout the Mediterranean basin, favouring uncultivated land such as courtyards and roadsides, even in cities. This plant has always been famous for its ability to alleviate inflammation of the throat and respiratory tract: aphonia, hoarseness, laryngitis and pharyngitis. The Italian name ‘erisimo’ (from the Greek ‘I save the singing’) shows that these properties were also known in the classical world. Its fame spread during the Renaissance and continues to this day: the Italian Supplemento al Dizionario di Sanità, a medical book published in 1784 by Giovanni Pietro Fusanacci, mentions its benefits against hoarseness. During the 19th century, hedge mustard accompanied opera singers before their performances and is still used today as a voice tonic. The therapeutic action of hedge mustard is attributed to its glucosinolate compounds. The highest concentration of bioactives, reached between May and August, is found in the flowering tops. Despite being an edible plant, hedge mustard has long been forgotten in traditional cuisine, except for Northern Europe, where it is widely used as a condiment. Hedge mustard shares its pungent and bitter taste with other plants of the Brassicaceae family, such as mustard and rocket. Dried in herbal tea preparations it has a sour aftertaste, while in cooking it preserves its organoleptic properties and active compounds below 70° C.
The ‘Erisimo in Milan’ project
In Italy, recent scientific studies on this plant are linked to the ‘Erisimo in Milan’ project, promoted by the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Milan, with which we had the pleasure of collaborating. The objectives of the initiative were to safeguard the spontaneous growth area of hedge mustard, develop its cultivation, study new food applications and encourage cultural activities related to the use of the voice. Finally, this exceptional plant is brought to new life through musical and gastronomic events. We would like to conclude our journey into the world of hedge mustard with a recipe from the book In cucina con l’erisimo (‘Cooking with hedge mustard’).
Recipe: Procurando você – Voice Drink
Pour the water into a saucepan, add the sliced apple, lemon zest, peeled ginger in pieces and sliced okra. Bring to the boil; simmer covered over low heat for 8-10 minutes.
Turn off the flame; allow to cool to about 60°. Add the hedge mustard flowers and seeds and leave to infuse.
The drink can be consumed hot, warm or cold. In the latter case, try serving it in a jug with pieces of fruit, like sangria, but without adding ice.
Our voice drink is ready. Cheers!