by Stephen Mifsud
   21 Apr 2021      ()
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Sisymbrium officinale   (Hedge Mustard)

Sisymbrium officinale   (BRASSICACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands at or after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
Images External Links
Support and sales Submit information
Website FORUM Copyright notes
Brassicaceae spp. Index Plant Family Index


Species name :

Sisymbrium officinale  (L.) Scopoli

Authority :

Carl von Linne, Sweden, 1707-1778 ;
Joannes Antonius Scopoli, Italy, 1723-1788

Synonyms :

Basionym or principal synonyms: No Main Synonyms
Full list of synonyms: [ PlantList ]   [ IPNI ]   [ Catalogue of Life ]

Plant Family :

Brassicaceae  Juss. (= Cruciferae )
(Mustard or Cress Family)

English name(s) :

Hedge Mustard, Tumble Weed, Hedge Wild Mustard

Maltese name(s) :

Mustarda rqiqa, Libsiena

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Name Derivation :

Sisymbrium = Old Greek name for some plant of the mustard family, probably cress (Greek)
officinale = Commercially or 'officially' used and sold in shops for medicinal or healing applications. This epithet was given in the past to plants with well-known medicinal properties. Having an official medicinal or pharmacological use and so sold as a medicinal herb (Latin)(Latin origin)

Remarks :


Morphology and structure



Growth Form




Erect :

Upright, vertically straight up well clear off the ground.

Branching at flowering part :

Branches are mostly present at the upper and flowering part of the stem.

Hirsute :

Covered with rough, coarse hairs.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Alternate :

Growing at different positions along the stem axis.

Stalked / Petiolate :

Hanging out by a slender leaf-stalk.

Pinnate venation :

Lateral veins which diverge from the midrib towards the leaf marhins.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin



Irregular Pinnate Lobes (Terminal lobe being largest) :

Compound arrangement of several lobes of various sizes and depths with the lowest being the smallest and most independent (deeply lobed), and the upper terminal lobe being the largest.

Serrate :

Sharp pointed teeth, oblique (inclined) to the margin, pointing apically like a saw.

Leaf Lobes

Triangular, with a bluntly-pointed apex.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals



Cruciform :

A flower with four petals at right angles to each other forming a shape of a cross.


Free, slender (3 times long as wide.




  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Raceme :

Simple, elongated, indeterminate cluster with stalked flowers.

The perianth consists of 4 erect free sepals, and 4 narrow, yellow petals arranged perpendicular to each other (cross-shaped). The reproductive organs consists of 6 stamens and a central pistil with a swollen style.

Superior :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.

6, Tetradynamous :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes



Faint sewwt smell is given off from the flowers.






No. Per Fruit







Rounded and flattened as a coin.


Light brown


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes


Siliqua :

A dry dehiscent pod-like fruit which is longer, often many times than broad, so having the shape of an elongated pouch.


Green when unripe.

Taproot :

A rooting system where there is the main descending root of a plant having a single dominant large structure from which a network of smaller and long roots emerge.



Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

THEROPHYTE (annuals)


Roadsides and lanes in countryside especially besides arable land and near rocky wasteland.



Localities in Malta:

Locally frequent besides cultivated and arable land at Dingli, Rabat, Siggiewi, Ta' Qali and Ghajn Tuffieha (Xaghra l-Hamra).

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Not Protected by Law (LN200/2011 or LN311/2006)

Red List 1989:

Not listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands


Not Poisonous.

An erect, herbaceous annual or biennial which is found close to arable sites. When young, the plant forms a basal rosette of leaves, but later an erect stem is formed and this give rise to the numerous flowering branches. Pilosity is variable but generally it is abundant towards the flowering parts of the plant.

The leaves are pinnatisect (lobes that are cut up to the midrib), 12-18cm long, irregularly serrate, and petiolated. The leaves can be divided into two types, those forming the basal rosette, and those present on the stem (=cauline leaves). The leaves of the basal rosette are the largest, with 4-6 pairs of triangular-shaped lateral lobes, and a large apical lobe (often 3-lobed itself) that is broader and somehow truncate at the tip. The cauline leaves have a much reduced petiole (the upermost being subsessile), with 2-4 lateral lobes, also triangular-lanceolate in shape, and a larger apical lobe more or less lanceolate with an acute tip.

The flowering part of adult plants consists of numerous, long, straight flowering branches that are at an obtuse angle to the parent stem - commonly found branched at perpendicular angles. The inflorescence is a raceme at the very end of the flowering branch with flowers borne in crowded clusters. The rest of the branch consists of developing fruit, wuth the mature ones towards the base of the flowering branch. No bracts are prsent.

The perianth consists of 4 erect, narrow sepals, about 2-3mm long and 4 slender yellow petals, that are about 3 times long as broad. Petals never overlap, and are arranged diagonally. Flowers are faintly sweet scented and measure an average of 8mm across.

The reproductive parts consists of 6 stamens with extrorse yellow anthers. They are arranged as 4 long central stamens and 2 lateral and shorter. The pistil is found at the centre and contains a simple style and swollen stigma

The fruit is a rather short siliqua - 10-15mm long, circular in cross section, linear shape with a tapering, beakless end. It is found appressed to the parent stem. The 2 valves (outer wall) of the fruit are hairy. The fruit can hold up to 20 small brown seeds about 1.5mm in diameter.

Information, uses and other details

Origin and Nativity

The plant originated in South Europe and with time it got widespread and naturalised throughout most regions such as most of Europe up to Scandinavia, UK and Ireland, North Africa (eg: Algeria, Libya, etc ), Asia (eg: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia) North America, Canada and elsewhere. [WWW-26] , [WWW-63]

Propagation and Cultivation

An easily grown plant, it succeeds in most soils but prefers a moist to dry acid to alkaline soil in full sun or light shade [238] . The plant has a peculiar aptitude for collecting and retaining dust [4] . This means that when growing near roads or other polluted places the leaves are seldom edible [KF] . It can be sown directly from seeds in situ without need of transplant [238] .


Its virtues were already known by speakers and singers but it is especially after the Rebirth that it finds its fame. It is told that at the 16th century a French doctor-botanist returned his voice to a child of chorus. The plant remained famous among singers and choir children in France. [WWW-64]

This plant was then named by the French the 'Singer's Plant,' and has been considered up to the time of Louis XIV an infallible remedy for loss of voice. Racine, in writing to Boileau, recommends him to try the syrup of Erysimum in order to be cured of voicelessness. A strong infusion of the whole plant used to be taken in former days for all diseases of the throat. [WWW-03]

Edible Uses

Young shoots - raw or cooked [2, 9, 85] . A bitter cabbage-like flavour, they are used as a flavouring in salads or cooked as a potherb [183, KF] . Seed - raw or cooked - can be ground into a powder and used as a gruel or as a mustard-like flavouring in soups etc [85, 183] .

Its savour is a little acre and it appears that the English incorporate it in certain sauces which accompany fish. [WWW-18]

Medicinal Uses

The plant has the following medicinal properties:   [4, 7, 21, 46] .
Antiaphonic Against the symptoms of lack of voice, so as to restore the voice    [KF]
Diuretic Tending to increase the secretion and discharge of urine.    [WWW-32]
Expectorant used to induce the ejection of mucus, phlegm, and other fluids from the lungs and air passages by coughing or spitting.    [WWW-32]
Laxative Having the effect of loosening or opening the intestines, hence stimulating evacuation of feces and so relieving from constipation.    [WWW-32]
Stomachic A medicine that strengthens the stomach and excites its action.    [WWW-32]

This plant was at one time known as the 'singer's plant' because of its use in treating loss of the voice [7] . A strong infusion of the whole plant has been used in the treatment of throat complaints [4, 238] . Excessive doses can affect the heart [238] . The dried plant is almost inactive, so it should only be used when freshly harvested [7] .

Hedge mustard is reputed expectorant, and has been used with advantage in hoarseness, old coughs, asthma and ulcerated throat; likewise said to exert some influence as a diuretic in urinary obstructions. The powdered seeds may be used internally in the dose of from 5 to 30 grains, or an infusion may be given every 2 or 3 hours in tablespoonful doses. The juice rubbed up with sugar or honey is also used. To calm cough and to give off bronchioles, it is necessary to mix its juice extract of the plant, with honey. [WWW-18]

Related Species

Sisymbrium sophia, or Flax weed, with bipinnately-divided leaves, the lobes oblong-linear, incised; pedicels four times the length of the calyx; petals smaller than the sepals; is a very intensely pungent plant. Its seeds have been recommended in gravel, and to remove worms; and a fomentation of the leaves as an application to obstinate ulcers [WWW-18]

Other Uses and Notes

  • This plant was known by its synonym - Erysimum officinale [WWW-18] . There are 2 varieties described, thus the S. officinale var. officinale and S. officinale var. leiocarpum [KF]
  • Alkaline secretions from the growing roots help to sweeten an acid soil [18] .
  • A food plant for the caterpillars of several butterfly and moth species. [30]
  • Susceptible to Turnip yellow mosaic tymovirus. [WWW-16]
  • The plant grows well where the ground contains nitrogen, because it is a nitrophile plant. [WWW-64]
  • In Greek, Sisymbrium means cress which, like all the crucifers, contains sulphur compounds which are beneficial for the asthmatic and people with the irritated throat. [WWW-64]

Personal Observations

Identification remarks
The short appressed pods of the plant looks similar to a closely related plant - the Hirschfeldia incana and hence one can easily confuse the two plants. Below is a table which illustrates the main differences betwenn H. incana and S. officinale. [SM]

Feature Hirschfeldia incana Sisymbrium officinale
Shape of leaf lobes The apical part is broad and rounded The apical part is acute and pointed
Leaf margin Crenate; teeth rounded and shallow Serrate; teeth triangular and well defined.
Flowering branches Spread out at about 45 degrees to the mother stem. Spread out at a more larger angle, the lower ones almost perpendicular.
Petals Nearly as long as broad, sub-orbicular Narrow, 2-3 times long as broad.
Siliqua (fruit) Glabrous and possess a swollen beak. Hairy and beakless

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Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



The Plant List


Vienna Virt. Hb.





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