In flower now – Oilseed Rape

The bright yellow flowers of oilseed rape have become a familiar late spring sight. The plant is a brassica and its name “rape” comes from the Latin word rapum, that means a turnip.  Oilseed rape is a popular break crop which allows pests to die out between cereal crops like wheat or barley. Most is autumn sown and harvested at a time when other crops are still growing, which helps farm management.

Rapeseed oil used to have high levels of damaging  erucic acid.  Today’s varieties however, have been bred to have low acid to provide an oil that is suitable for use in cooking and food processing.  Known as vegetable oil or canola oil, it is widely used by the food industry and is now also processed for use as biodiesel, while a very small amount has industrial uses as lubricants. The residue is used for animal feed. Rapeseed oil has become popular as it has low saturated fat and is high in omega-3. The cold pressed oils now compete with olive oil.

Anyone who has stood beside a field in full flower will know the strong scent. Some individuals experience an allergic type reaction to flowering oilseed. Whether rape pollen causes hay fever has not been established. Rape is an insect-pollinated crop, whereas hay fever is usually caused by wind-pollinated plants such as grasses. Rape has a large pollen grain but it doesn’t move very far.

Rapeseed produces great quantities of nectar from which honeybees produce a  peppery honey, often blended with milder honeys.  A problem with some canola honey is that most of the North American crop is genetically modified to resist herbicides. So, if you are organic, stick to European honey.

Oilseed has helped woodpigeons become one of the commonest birds in Britain. Recent bans on the use of pesticides may have an effect on the amount of oilseed grown in this country.