Cabbage Lore and Trivia

Although they look very different, cabbage, kale,  broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are all the same species of plant. The differences between these plants are the results of thousands of years of human cultivation and selective propagation.

Cabbages are from the family Cruciferae, a large family which contains many vegetables. It is also called the mustard family.

The family name comes from the Latin word for "cross" and was given to members of this family because the flowers are cross-shaped . Cole crops are herbaceous, biennial, dicotyledonous plants specifically from the genus and species, Brassica oleracea.

Cabbages ~ Brassica oleracea include:

acephala - kale, collards
botrytis - cauliflower
capitata - cabbage
gemmifera - Brussels sprouts
gongylodes - kohlrabi
italica - sprouting broccoli

The botanical name for cabbage is Brassica oleracea capitata.

There is historical and botanical evidence that cabbage has been cultivatedfor more than 4,000 years and domesticated for over 2,500 years. Before cole cropswere domesticated they were collected from the wild and used primarily as medicinal herbs. The other forms were domesticated at later dates. Brussels sprouts are the most recent crop, having come into existence less than 500 years ago.

The March of Cabbage

Although Cabbage is often connected to the Irish, the Celts brought cabbage to Europe from Asia around 600 B.C.

In the wild, Cabbage species  are native to the Mediterranean. Wild Cole crops are found growing along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe. Cabbages and kale presumably originated in Western Europe; cauliflower and broccoli in the Mediterranean region.

Cabbages were first grown by the Slavs in the 9th century. Greek and Roman colonists brought cabbages from the Black Sea region into Russia. It was probably the Celts who introduced Cabbage to lands they invaded from the Mediterranean to the British Isles and Asia Minor.

Since Cabbage grows well in cool climates, yields large harvests, and stores well during winter, it soon became a major crop in Europe. Early Cabbage was not the full-bodied head we take for granted today, but rather a more loose-leaf variety. The head variety was developed during the Middle Ages by northern European farmers. 'Coles' were described by European writers in the first, third, fourth and 13th centuries.

Colewyrts, or headless Cabbage plants, such as kale and collards were brought to the United States with the arrival of the white man. It is not believed to have been cultivated by the native tribes of either North or South America.

French navigator Jacques Cartier is generally credited with the introduction of the Cabbage to the Americas in 1536. Most likely the Cabbage was brought to North America in the 1600's. The first North American record of  planting cabbages was in 1699.

The variety of Napa Cabbage,  introduced into Japan from China in the 1860s, was  brought to North America by immigrant laborers in the 1880's and 1890's.

Origin of the Name

What food did the Greeks, Romans, Hindis, Tartars and the Celts all have in common? Coleworts - a primitive cabbage.

Coleworts or colewyrts is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning cabbage plants. The Anglo-Saxon's got the word from the Romans whose word 'coles' or 'caulis' referenced the whole group of cabbage-like plants. The German word 'Kohl' has the same origin. Kale is a Scottish word from, you guessed it, the same Roman root word 'coles'. Collards is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word colewyrts.

The linguistic roots of the story of this very ancient plant go much deeper. The Tartars called it Kappes, krout, or kapost, the Hindi called it kopi, the Norwegians called it kaal and the Spanish called it col. The original Greek word (from which the Romans got caulis) was Kaulion.

Cabbage is from a group of plants known as the Cole crops. The word "Cole" derives from the Middle English word "col". The Romans called these crops "caulis", and the Greeks called them "kaulion". All these words mean "stem". The English name cabbage comes from the French caboche, meaning head, referring to its round form.

In Chinese, the word for "vegetable" is choi, which is the same word for cabbage. Kohlrabi (also known as cabbage turnip and stem cabbage) is a member of the same species. The cabbage has a place in almost every cuisine from Korean kim chee, German sauerkraut, and Irish colcannon, to New England corned beef and cabbage. Kohlrabi is popular in Austrian, German, and Eastern European soups and stews; in Chinese dishes, where it often substitutes for the similar-tasting Chinese broccoli; and in the American South, where it joins any gathering of mixed boiled greens.


•Because cabbage requires only three months of growing time, one acre of cabbage will yield more edible vegetables than any other plant.

•The world's largest cabbage is credited to William Collingwood of County Durham, England, whose prized cabbage in 1865 weighed in at 123 pounds.

•Emperor Claudius called upon his Senate to vote on whether any dish could surpass corned beef and cabbage. (The Senate voted a resounding nay!)

•Cabbage is considered Russia's national food. Russians eat about seven times as much cabbage as the average North American.

•There is a legend told to children that babies come from Cabbage Patches.

•There is also an old tale that the Man on the Moon was banished to this remote abode after being caught stealing a cabbage from his neighbor on Christmas Eve.

•Russian princes paid tributes not only with racing horses and jewels, but also with garden plots planted with kopusta, or cabbage.

•Babe Ruth used to wear a cabbage leaf under his hat during games. He would switch out for a fresh leaf halfway through each game.


Ancient medicinal uses .....

• Egyptian pharaohs would eat large quantities of cabbage before a night of drinking as they believed that cabbage consumption would allow them to drink more alcoholic beverages and not feel the effects. This is perhaps why many still consider cabbage with vinegar as a good hangover remedy.

• Greeks and Romans placed great importance on the healing powers of cabbage. They held that the vegetable could cure just about any illness. Roman mythology holds that cabbages sprung from the tears of Lycurgus, King of the Edonians.

• Scrolls from 1000 BC uncovered in China mention white cabbage as a cure for baldness in men.

• The Romans cultivated it and some of them, like Cato, ate it before and after meals, a practice he advised to his countrymen: "It will make you feel as if you had not eaten," he assured them, "and you can drink as much as you like."

• Captain Cook swore by the medicinal value of sauerkraut (cabbage preserved in brine) back in 1769. His ship doctor used it for compresses on soldiers who were wounded during a severe storm and thus prevented the development of gangrene.

• At the turn of the last century Cabbage was considered to be the lowly vegetable of poor people. It is now highly regarded as one of the most nutritious vegetables available today, and is thought to have strong anti-aging and anti-cancer properties.

Current Medicinal Uses for Cabbage....

•Uncooked Cabbage is high in glutamine, an amino acid that is essential for intestinal health.

•Cabbages are a good source of Vitamin K, which is essential inthe production of blood clotting proteins.

•Cabbage is high in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure, promotes a steady heartbeat, and can lower your risk of stroke.

•Savoy Cabbage is among the highest in beta-carotene.

•Bok Choy and Chinese Cabbage are highest in calcium.

•Cabbage contains quercetin, an antioxidant that is a natural antihistamine that can benefit allergy sufferers.

•Red Cabbage provides the most Vitamin C.

•Cabbage juice can be used to treat stomach ulcers and help stop any bleeding.

•All Colewyrts are high in vitamins A and C, and in the mineral iron.

• Cabbage  juice is used to relieve constipation. However it may cause flatulence as the juice breaks down putrefying matter in the intestines. Cabbage leaves are considered ideal roughage.

• A chemical (isothiocyanates) found in cabbages may lower the risk of lung cancer in smokers by as much as 38%.


Some Cabbage Chemistry or ~ or Why does cabbage "stink" when it is cooking?

Modern science has explained such emissions as a release of hydrogen sulfide.
In fact, the longer cabbage is cooked, the greater the amount of hydrogen sulfide produced.
This is not exactly news as there is an ancient Greek saying "Cabbage twice cooked is death."
Cooks advise boiling cabbage with a piece of chili pepper "to diminish the unpleasant odor."
Despite these olfactory drawbacks, cabbage has been quite popular for the last 2,500 years.

Red cabbage gets its red color from anthocyanines, compounds made up out of sugar
and phenolic pigments called anthocyanidines. In the same way as litmus paper,
the color reflected by these pigments depends on the degree of acidity or pH.
Usually, when you cook red cabbage you add vinegar, lemon or apples to ensure
that the presence of some acid will preserve the red color. If you instead add something
alkaline, e.g. sodium bicarbonate, the red cabbage will turn into blue cabbage!

You can make your own pH solution from Cabbage Water - see details below.

Cabbage Water

Cabbage Chemistry fun~ Red cabbage water is an indicator for pH.

It will go red in acidic solutions and green in basic solutions.

It will stay it's nice purple color in neutral solutions.

Making cabbage water

1. Chop one large red cabbage into small pieces.

Note: Blackberries, red onions, or even hibiscus flowers can be used as a substitute.

2.   Simmer the cabbage pieces until the water turns a deep shade of purple.

3.       Allow the water to cool.

4.      Refrigerate when not in use.

World Cabbage Day is on February the 17th, mark your calendar!
World Cabbage Day is a day in which the pleasure and simplicity of the Cabbage
is celebrated as a humble yet universal foodstuff.

Live life like a Cabbage
Live close to the Earth, keep your head down and stay out of trouble.