Indian Journal Of Traditional Knowledge
Vol. 8(3), July 2009, pp. 400-404

Mustard and its uses in Ayurveda

Ram Manohar P*, Reshmi Pushpan & Rohini S

AVT Institute for Advanced Research, Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, 136-137 Trichy Road, Ramanathapuram,
Coimbatore 641 045, Tamil Nadu

Received 17 October 2008 revised 17 April 2009

Mustard is a condiment that has been used for culinary, religious and cultural purposes by humanity since time immemorial. Mustard has figured prominently in the Indian tradition and its medicinal properties have been systematically evaluated and documented in the classical Ayurvedic texts. The paper attempts to carefully review the ancient and contemporary uses of mustard as food and medicine with reference to the Ayurvedic tradition. It will give an outline of the varieties of mustard described in the ancient Ayurvedic writings, comparing Ayurvedic and modern medical information regarding their properties and applications for health as well as other ways in which mustard has been used for betterment of human life.

Keywords:        Traditional knowledge, Ayurveda, Mustard

IPC Int. Cl.8:    A61K36/00, A61P17/00, A61P17/02, A61P17/10, A61P19/00, A61P25/00, A61P29/00, A61P31/00,


Known variously as sarṣapa, siddhārthaka, rājikā and āsurī, mustard is well documented in the classical Ayurvedic literature like Caraka Saṃhitā, Suśruta Saṃhitā, Bhela Saṃhitā and Kāśyapa Saṃhitā. Scholars opine that the term āsurī, which occurs twice in both the Śaunakai and the Paippalādaii recensions of the Atharva Veda denotes the mustard plant extending its historicity even farther into the past. This assumption is based on the comments of Sāyaṇaiii and the medicinal properties ascribed to it in the Atharva Veda. However, in the later period and right up to contemporary times, the applications of mustard in diet and medicine got indisputably established in Ayurvedic practice. Needless to say, mustard has a long history of use in the Ayurvedic tradition. Mustard is referred to in Ayurvedic literature by various synonyms and this makes the task of identifying the plant and its varieties as it was understood in ancient times quite difficult. Two varieties of mustard are alluded to as siddhārthakayugmaiv albeit many more varieties are mentioned on the basis of colour. There are the śveta (white)v, gaura (yellowish white)vi, pīta (yellow)vii, asita (black)viii and rakta (red)ix varieties of mustard mentioned variously in the works of Caraka, Suśruta and Vāgbhaṭa. Obviously, these terms do not suggest that six varieties of mustard were known to the ancients. In these early writings on Ayurveda, only two varieties of mustard are recognized and it therefore seems that the six terms denoting coloured varieties of mustard can be resolved under two categories. It appears that the ancient authors generally recognized two shades of seed colour of the mustard plant viz., the light (sita or śveta) and dark (asita) colored seeds. Gaura and pīta are probably synonyms of the śveta variety of mustard and rakta is a synonym of the asita variety. The Suśruta Saṃhitā distinguishes Sarṣapa and Rājikā as the two varieties of mustardx.

 At a later period, the Nighaṇṭus (medical lexicons) distinguish three or four varieties of mustard. The Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭuxi distinguishes between Gaura Sarṣapa, Rakta Sarṣapa (equated to Siddhārthaḥ) and Āsurī. The Kayyadeva Nighaṇṭuxii lists Sarṣapa, Śveta Sarṣapa, Rakta Sarṣapa and Kṛṣṇa Sarṣapa. On the other hand, the Rāja Nighaṇṭuxiii mentions about Āsurī, (equated to Raktasarṣapa) Rājakṣavaka (equated to Kṛṣṇa Sarṣapa) and Tīkṣṇaka (equated to Sita Sarṣapa or Siddhārthakaḥ) types of mustard. The Bhāvaprakāśa Nighaṇṭuxiv considers Rājikā to be Kṛṣṇa Sarṣapa and specifies that Gaura Sarṣapa is known by the term Siddhārtha. From these classifications, a correspondence with four varieties of mustard widely recognized today as brown mustard (Brassica campestris), black mustard (Brassica nigra) white mustard (Brassica alba) and Indian mustard (Brassica juncea) can be discerned. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the varieties described in the Ayurvedic texts could be sometimes referring to seed color variations in the same species of mustard. Careful analysis of literary evidence suggests that Brassica juncea, known as Indian mustard is a definite botanical source for one of the mustards documented in Ayurvedic literature. Further studies are required to authentically establish the botanical identity of the other varieties of mustard known to ancient Indians.

 Mustard has been used as both food and medicine in Ayurveda. Mustard leaf is considered a vegetable, while the seeds are used as a condiment and constitute the source of mustard oil. References to mustard are seen scattered in Ayurvedic literature and a systematic account of its properties and uses are seen only in the later period. All the ancient authorities unequivocally proclaim that the leaves of mustard are the most condemned amongst vegetables. Nevertheless, mustard leaves are an ingredient of the decoction for steam fomentationxv and is also recommended for cleansing the cranial cavityxvi in the Caraka Saṃhitā. Kāśyapa specifies that mustard leaf is not a galactagogue unlike other leafy vegetablesxvii. It is sakṣāra (slightly alakaline), madhura (sweet), nātyuṣṇa (not so hot in potency) or uṣṇa (hot in potency), tīkṣṇa (penetrating), guru (heavy), rūkṣa (drying) or snigdha (unctuous), vidāhi (triggers inflammation), grāhi (astringent), baddhaviṇmūtra (reduces output of urine and feces) and reduces kapha and vātaxviii. It is mentioned in the group of leafy vegetables by Suśruta and Vāgbhaṭaxix. According to Kayyadeva Nighaṇṭu, the leaves of sarṣapa (light) variety of mustard have a salty tastexx and the Bhāvaprakāśa Nighaṅṭu mentions that it actually increases urine output and is a laxative as wellxxi! According to Rāja Nighaṇṭu, the leaves of the Rājikā variety of mustard improve digestionxxii. It is pertinent to note that the Suśruta Saṃhitāxxiii and the Nighaṇṭus make a clear distinction in the properties of the leaves of the two varieties of mustard suggesting that two different species of mustard were known to the ancient physicians of India from a very early period. Śuśruta Saṃhitāxxiv mentions that mustard leaves cause inflammation, constipation and reduced urinary output. It is hot in potency, sharp in action and deranges all the three doṣas. The leaves of Rājikā varietyxxv (black mustard) are also hot and pungent, but can improve appetite and pacify Vāta and Kapha. The Kayyadeva Nighaṇṭuxxvi elaborates on these distinctions further while agreeing with the observations of Suśruta. Mustard leaves have a salty, pungent, sweet and alkaline taste and that the leaves of the Rājikā varietyxxvii are anthelminitc but harmful for the eyes and deranges blood and pitta, causing inflammation as well.

 For medicinal purposes, the seeds and oil of mustard are used singly and in various formulations in Ayurveda, while mustard leaves are used sparingly. Mustard seed is included in the group of drugs that cleanse the cranial cavity (Śīrṣavirecana Gaṇa)xxviii, are used for decoction enema (Āsthāpanopaga Gaṇa)xxix, have anti-prurient activity (Kaṇḍūghna Gaṇa)xxx, induce emesis (Chardana Gaṇa)xxxi and have a pungent taste (Kaṭu Skandha)xxxii. Mustard seeds are most commonly used and the references to external uses far outnumber the internal uses. Common modalities of external use of mustard seed are as paste (pradeha)xxxiii, fumigant (dhūpana)xxxiv, diaphoretic (svedana)xxxv, massage powder (udvartana)xxxvi, scraping agent (pragharṣaṇa)xxxvii, poultice (upanāha)xxxviii and for gargling (gaṇḍūṣa)xxxix. The applications are seen indicated in diseases like leucoderma, cracked skin, fever, leprosy, wasting, insanity, epilepsy, swelling, rheumatoid arthritis, neurological disorders, gynecological disorders, breast milk disorders earache, wounds, acne vulgaris, eruptions in oral cavity and retention of placentaxl.

 Internally, mustard seeds are used for purging the body of toxinsxli. Mustard seed is an ingredient of formulations that induce emesis, cleanse the cranial cavity and for giving decoction enema. These procedures are indicated in diseases like vomiting, insanity, flatulence, pallor, jaundice and rhinitisxlii.  In tumour of the thyroid gland as well as lymphadenitis, a paste of mustard seeds with other herbs is indicated for external applicationxliii. The Kāśyapa Saṃhitā mentions about offering mustard grains into fire to prevent seeing inauspicious dreamsxliv. The same text also includes mustard seed as an ingredient in a linctus indicated for improving the intellectxlv. The Rāja Nighaṇṭu recommends its use in splenomegaly‑xlvi and Kayyadeva Nighaṇṭu in cardiac disordersxlvii. In some contexts, a specific type of mustard is specified for use. For anointment in people who have been emaciated by trauma, the white variety of mustard is indicatedxlviii. So also as ointment in skin diseases and fistula in anoxlix. Unlike the early texts, the medical lexicons of the later period spell out the differences in the properties of varieties of mustard seeds. The Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu explains that white mustard pacifies Kapha and Vāta and is useful for diseases of ear, head and Vātal. The red mustard is bitter and unctuous while black mustard increases Pitta and harms the eyes as well as the urinary systemli. According to the Madanapāla Nighaṇṭu, mustard seeds pacify Vāta and Kapha, is sharp, hot, dry, increases the digestive fire and aggravates blood and Pitta. It is indicated in management of itching, skin diseases and intestinal worms. This text does not distinguish between the properties of varieties of mustard seedslii.

 In the Bhāvaprakāśa Nighaṇṭu, white mustard is pungent, bitter, unctuous, sharp, hot, pacifies Kapha and Vāta, increases digestive power, has antimicrobial properties and is useful in management of itching, skin diseases and intestinal worms. The red mustard also has similar properties but the white mustard is said to be superior. The black mustard is said to be having an acute potency compared to the other two varieties and pacifies Kapha and Pitta while exhibiting similar properties as the other types of mustardliii. Rāja Nighaṇṭu proclaims that the Āsurī type of mustard pacifies Vāta, splenomegaly and colicky pain. It is useful in management of abdominal swellings, intestinal worms and wounds. However, it increases burning sensation and Pittaliv. The black mustard also has similar properties and uses while the white variety is useful in rheumatoid arthritis, seizures, skin diseases, anorexia, poisoning, wounds and possession by evil spiritslv. The Kayyadeva Nighaṇṭu summarizes in general the properties of all types of mustard seeds specifying that red mustard is especially hot, heavy and alkaline. Mustard is said to be useful in cardiac disorders but can derange blood and Pittalvi. The fact that these texts distinguish between the properties of leaves, seeds and oil derived from varieties of mustard suggests that different species of mustard were used in ancient India. Nevertheless, the classification varies slightly from text to text making it difficult to establish the exact identity of the plants.

 Mustard oil is mentioned in the group of oils (Taila Varga)lvii.  Mustard oil is indicated for external use in management of abdominal swelling, skin diseases, epilepsy, insanity and frozen thigh. It is considered to be a lipid lowering agent, anthelminitc, and used in diseases affecting the head, hemorrhoids and woundslviii. Internally, mustard oil is used to season food and recommended in diabetes, skin diseases, frozen thigh, elephantiasis and retention of placenta. It is also used for urethral infiltrationlix. In filariasis, mustard oil is recommended for internal use with the juice of the leaves of Pongamia glabra. Mustard oil is also an ingredient of Aṣṭakaṭvara Taila, which is used in the management of frozen thigh. It appears in many formulations for treating skin diseases (Siddhārthaka Tailaṃ, Maricādyaṃ Tailaṃ, Kuṣṭhakālānalaṃ Tailaṃ) and lymphadenitis (Ajamodādyatailaṃ). Mustard oil in general is pungent in taste, light and warm on touch. It improves digestion, has a scraping action and is useful in management of diseases caused by Kapha, build up of fat, derangement of Vāta, haemorrhoids, diabetes, diseases of ear and head, itching, eruptions, intestinal worms, vitiligo and chronic diseaseslx. It causes emaciation, is harmful for the eyes and deranges blood and Pittalxi. It is specifically contraindicated for enema. The oil from Rājikā variety of mustard is said to be a hair tonic and is useful in skin diseases but causes impotency and reduced urine outputlxii.

 Depending on the variety of mustard, there are differences in the properties of leaf, seed and oil. Mustard leaves can derange all the doṣas and specifically blood and pitta. Hence, it is not recommended for regular use as a vegetable. The Madanapāla Nighaṇtu specifies that mustard leaf pacifies all the doṣaslxiii while the Kayyadeva Nighaṇṭu specifies that it is the leaves of the rājikā (dark) variety of mustard that deranges blood and pittalxiv. The Rāja Nighaṇṭu points out that leaves of the sarṣapa variety of mustard can decrease the quantity of semen even as it triggers inflammationlxv. According to the Bhāvaprakāśa Nighaṇṭu, mustard oil can harm the eyes on long term uselxvi. Interestingly enough, mustard oil is contraindicated for use with turmeric as it will aggravate pittalxvii. Pigeon meat, leaves of Inula racemosa and Soymida febrifuga if cooked with mustard oil spoils blood, blocks arteries, induces seizures, causes severe headache, swelling as well as obstruction of the throatlxviii. The Bhāvaprakāśa Nighaṇṭu mentions that though the red and white varieties of mustard have similar properties, the white variety is preferred for internal use.

 Isothiocyanates, which are found in mustard seeds, can inhibit carcinogenesis and tumerogenesis in breast, colon, lung and skin tissue in animalslxix. A related compound, allyl isothiocyanate, seen in mustard has antimicrobial and antifungal activitylxx. Mustard leaf has exhibited antioxidant effects in invitro and invivo studieslxxi. Mustard seeds have demonstrated hypoglycemic effect in rats and usage of mustard oil has been found to be associated with good outcomes in cardiovascular diseaselxxii. These research findings corroborate well with the Ayurvedic indications of mustard in swellings and growths, elevated lipid levels, cardiac disorders, diabetes, skin diseases and infections. The safety issues surrounding the usage of the leaves, seeds and oil of mustard as described in Ayurvedic texts can be subjected to scientific investigation. The Ayurvedic tradition has discovered mustard as a valuable herb that has both desirable and undesirable properties but which can yet be favorably used to our advantagelxxiii. Scientific studies can help us to exploit this potential in a very productive way.

 Mustard has become part and parcel of the Indian cultural mileu. People put mustard seeds into the fire to ward off the evil eye. It is considered to be antimicrobial and supposedly has the ability to drive away spirits. The Rāja Nighaṇṭu observes that the white variety of mustard has a well established utility (Siddhaprayojanaḥ)lxxiv. Although this text does not explain what this special utility is, it mentions another synonym Siddhasādhanaḥ, which means almost the same. Siddhārthaka mainly refers to the white variety of mustard and sometimes the red and means that it is an unfailing instrument to achieve a coveted goal, perhaps related to some ritual. Cultivation of mustard has been an indispensable activity of Indian agriculture. People anoint mustard oil on their bodies to fight cold weather, season food with paste of mustard seeds, use its leaves as a vegetable and cook food articles in mustard oil. It is also used as a mosquito repellent in some places and can continue to be an important source of edible oil that is easy to harvest and gives a very good yield of oil through simple processing methods.



i                       AVS   1.24.1-4 ; 7.38. 1-2  

ii                     AVP   1.26.1-4 20.30.7  

iii                    Sayana’s comment on AVS   1.24.1-4 ; is Asuri asurma ayarupa stri and Asuri asurasya maya on   AVS 7.38.2    

iv                    AH.U   5.18    

v                     S.S.Ci.   5.1    

vi                    S.S.Ci.   20.17 CS.SU 8.177

vii                  A.H.U   37.23    

viii                 S.S.Su   46.49    

ix                    S.S.U.3.11

x                      S.S.Su  46. 221-222    

xi                    DN karavirAdi varga 39 - 42    

xii                   KN dhanya varga 88 - 92    

xiii                 RN salyadi varga 119 - 124    

xiv                 BN dhanya varga 69    

xv                   C S Vi   8.151    

xvi                 C S Vi   8.151    

xvii                K.S.Su   19    

xviii              A.S.Su   7.148    

xix                  S.S.Su   46.221 AH.SU 6.101

xx                   KN ousadhi varga 640    

xxi                  BN Saka varga 47    

xxii                RN mulakadi varga 146    

xxiii               S.S.Su   46.221,238    

xxiv               S.S.Su   46.238    

xxv                S.S.Su   46.221

xxvi               KN ousadhi varga 640 - 641    

xxvii             KN ousadhi varga 640 - 641    

xxviii            C.S.Su 2.3 (sirovirecanopagani),  C.S.Su 4.27

xxix               CS.Su   4.25    

xxx                 CS.Su   4.14    

xxxi               AH.Su   15.1    

xxxii              CS.V   8.142    

xxxiii            CS.Ci   3.237    

xxxiv            SS.Su   19.28    

xxxv              C.Ci.   5.41    

xxxvi            C.Ci.   7.103    

xxxvii           C.Ci.   7.104    

xxxviii         SS.Ci   14.7    

xxxix             Su.S.Ci   22.10    

xl                    Leucoderma S.S.Ci.9.12,S.S.Ci.9.27

Cracked skinC.S.Ci.7.119

Fever C.S.Ci.3.237

Leprosy S.S.Ci.9.63


Insanity C.S.Ci.9.65,70.

Epilepsy C.S.Ci.10.37

Swelling S.S.Ci.23.15

Rheumatoid arthritis C.S.Ci.29.136

Neurological  disorders S.S.Ci.5.10

Breast milk disorders C.S.Ci.30.268



Eruptions in Oral cavity-S.S.Ci.22.11,20

Retension of Placenta S.S.Sa.10.

xli                   C.S.Ci.15.73,S.S.Ci.38.60,61,C.S.Su.4.25

xlii                 C.S.Ci 20.35, C.S.Ci 9.65, C.S.Ci 26.12.13, S.S. Ci 38.60,61, C.S.Ci   26.153           

xliii                Bhai. Rat. galagandAdi roga cikitsa 44/8-9

xliv                K.S.I Ousadha bhesajendriya      

xlv                 K.S.SU.Lehanadhyayam

xlvi                RN salyadi varga .120    

xlvii              KN dhanya varga .91    

xlviii             K S Ci. Rajayakshma Chikitsa      

xlix                S.S.Ci.8.15

l                       DN karavirAdi varga .40    

li                     DN karavirAdi varga .40    

lii                    MN dhanyagana varga. 56    

liii                  BN dhanya varga .397    

liv                  RN salyadi varga .120    

lv                    RN salyadi varga .124    

lvi                  KN dhanya varga .92    

lvii                 SS.Su   45.115    

lviii               K.N.Taila varga.317-318

lix                   diabetes C.S.Ci.6.20

skin diseases,S.S.Ci.9.5

frozen thigh C.S.Ci.27.43

elephantiasis S.S.Ci.19.59

retention of placenta:A.H.Sa.2.88

Urethral infiltration S.S.SA.10

lx                    BN taila varga .  10  -  12     

lxi                   KN taila varga. 318    

lxii                 RN ksheeravadhi varga. 122    

lxiii                MN saka varga .61    

lxiv                KN ousadhi varga. 641    

lxv                 RN salyadi varga .123    

lxvi                RN taila varga .110    

lxvii              C.S.SU.26.84

lxviii             C.S.SU.26.84

lxix                Tseng E, Kamath A & Morris ME, Effect of organic isothiocyanates on the P-glycoprotein-and MRP1-mediated transport of daunomycin and vinblastine. Pharm Res . 19 (2002) 1509-1515.

lxx                  Oliver C ,Vaughn S,MizubutiE & Loria R, Variation in allyl isothiocyanate   production within Brassica species and correlation with fungicidal activity, J Chem Ecol, 25 (1999) 2687-2701.

lxxi                Sujatha R & Srinivas L, Modulation of lipid peroxidation by dietary components, Toxicol In Vitro, 9 (1995) 231-236.

lxxii               Yadav SP, Vats V, Ammini AC & Grover JK, Brassica juncea (Rai) significantly prevented the development of insulin resistance in rats fed fructose –enriched diet. J Ethnopharmacol, 93 (2004) 113-116.

lxxiii             Singh RB, Niaz MA, Sharma JP, KumarR, Rastogi V & Moshiri M, Randomized,double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of fish oil and mustard oil in patients with suspected acute myocardial infarction : the Indian experiment of infarct survival-Cardiovasc Drugs Ther, 11 (1997) 485-491.

lxxiv     - Vandana   Shiva. The Mustard Oil Conspiracy, The Ecologist, June 21.

lxxv               RN salyadi varga 123.


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