Western Isles Wildflowers
Western Isles wildflowers is a collection of information about our Hebridean wildflowers including identification hints, traditional herbal uses and general plant lore.
Gaelic name: Sgeallan
Charlock is an annual plant which grows up to 1 m tall. The stems are erect and have coarse spreading hairs near the base. Charlock has a deep-toothed terminal lobe on the leaf that helps us to identify this plant from the rest of the family Brassicaceae (cabbage family).
The inflorescenceof charlock is upright and unbranched (a raceme) and consists of yellow flowers with four petals each.
This wildflower is also known as wild mustard, carlic, corn mustard, yellow charlock, karlock, brassics, cadlock, gool, guilde, gullan or gowan.
Several species of Scottish native plants are called gool, guilde, gullan or gowan, referring to their yellow or gold flowers.
Guilde was a common name for charlock and wild radish and these were considered pests because of their invasive natures. There was a custom in Scotland of the local landowner and his bailiffs riding across his land checking that the pests plants were being kept down. This was called 'riding the guilde'.
Charlock as a Food Plant
Charlock has been reported to be poisonous to livestock.
It is eaten by the caterpillars of some butterflies, such as the small white.
Charlock has a history as a human food source. The leaves are eaten raw or cooked. Rather hot, like the hedge mustard, the very young leaves are sometimes included in salads. Slightly older leaves are added to soups etc.
Older charlock leaves are bitter so It is best to use just the first young shoots and leaves in the spring. The flowering stems are edible if cooked. They are said to taste good and similar to cabbage. They can be used as a broccoli substitute if you pick them before their flowers open. Steam them for 5 minutes.
Charlock flowers can be used as a garnish or steamed like the stems and used as a vegetable.
The seed of charlock can be sprouted and eaten raw. They give a hot flavour, and can be added to salads etc. The seed can also be ground into a powder and used as a mustard-like food flavoring, or a pepper substitute.
Charlock seed was a famine food in Scotland, and when grain supplies dwindled a gritty bread, was made using the seed. On Orkney It was called 'Reuthie Bread'.
Commercially an edible oil is obtained from charlock seed.
Other Uses of Charlock
Charlock gives a yellow dye.
As well as being edible, the oil from charlock seed is used in making soap. It burns cleanly and is used for lighting. (The plant is grown in abundance in Europe)
Charlock is used in Bach flower remedies. It is used (with other remedies) for shifting state from 'Black depression', 'Melancholia' and 'Gloom'.
Charlock in the Western Isles
Although a European native, charlock is a not a native plant of the Western Isles, it is an invasive colonist which is found throughout the islands.
Photography © Frank Stark
Leurbost - Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
3rd June, 2007
Frank's web site of his nature photography