It is not often that a wild species moves seamlessly from its rocky coastal habitat into the manmade environment of a kitchen garden, yet the Cape Greko Mustard is not only that adaptable, it improves dramatically as a food plant when brought under cultivation. In fact, while botanists may be attracted to it for its extraordinary rarity, here is a wild-harvest potherb with enormous future potential. Its scientific name is Enarthrocarpus arcuatus (it can be Googled under that moniker) and since it has no common name in English, we have decided to dub it Cape Greko Mustard because Cape Greko National Park in Cyprus is where its natural habitat is under strict protection.
In fact wild harvesting is forbidden since the plant is on the United Nations Red List as seriously threatened. But that is probably a good thing for the moment because it encourages horticulturalists like us to create an alternative to the wild plants living under threat of extinction, so seeds were obtained via USDA from the Cypriot Ministry of Agriculture and duly planted in the spring of 2015. The object of this experiment was to determine how well the plant would do and whether it had culinary potential. The mustard grows wild in certain limited coastal locations in Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, and Israel where local foragers often bring it to market. Thus we know anecdotally that it is indeed considered worthy of the table but the pressure is too great on the wild populations to even consider it a sustainable food source.
The mustard prefers rocky coastal pastures, sea cliffs, even an occasional sand dune where it blooms profusely in March through May with an abundance of fragrant yellow flowers veined with violet. The flowers attract pollinators from miles around, so this alone should be a high mark in its favor as a garden plant.
The early spring plants grow like rosettes flat against the ground, the leaves vaguely similar to upland cress or rocket. What surprised us were the texture and flavor of the leaves: they have a succulent crunch like cabbage and while there is a distinct mustard taste, it is mild with none of the bitter after-kick that many types of mustard greens develop as they mature. The plants grow no more than 20 inches tall and once flowering begins, they prefer to ramble across the ground – very easy for the kitchen gardener since no staking is required. Furthermore in mild winter regions of the country (Zone 7 and warmer) Cape Greko Mustard can be planted in the fall and treated as a biennial. In colder regions it should be spring planted and grown as an annual.
A Cypriot hunter pointed out to us recently that the seed pods are a great favorite of wood pigeons and quail, so sportsmen have always been on the lookout for this wild mustard for reasons quite apart from gardening. Then again, who is to deny that Cape Greko Mustard wouldn’t make a perfect feed crop for farms devoted to game birds? We foresee all sorts of potential here and mores the better that it can be carried forward in the name of preserving biodiversity.