Biennial or perennial herb growing to 8 ft (2.5 m). Has a thick stem, grey leaves, and 4-petaled yellow flowers. Within the first year, it produces a greatly enlarged terminal bud that develops into the familiar cabbage head in late summer.
Habitat & Cultivation
Wild cabbage is native to coasts of the English Channel and the Mediterranean. Cultivated varieties are produced worldwide as a vegetable.
Cabbage is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, and C.
History & Folklore
The wholesome cabbage is one of the oldest vegetables. According to Greek myth, the plant sprang into existence from the perspiration of Zeus. In a Greek ritual, cabbage was given to expectant mothers shortly before birth in order to establish good breast-milk production. The Romans used cabbage as an antidote, especially to alcohol, believing it countered intoxication and prevented or reduced a hangover.
They also used cabbage leaves to cleanse infected wounds. It is thought to have been cultivated in Britain from around 500 CE. One traditional method of making a cabbage poultice, still used today, is to cut out the thick midrib of a leaf and iron it, placing it while still hot on the area to be treated.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Cabbage’s best-known medicinal use is as a poultice—the leaves of the wild or cultivated plant are blanched, crushed, or chopped, and applied to swellings, tumors, and painful joints. Wild cabbage leaves eaten raw or cooked aid digestion and the breakdown of toxins in the liver—so the Romans’ eating it to ease a hangover was in fact quite justified. Cabbage is also detoxifying and helpful in the long-term treatment of arthritis. The high vitamin C content of cabbage has made it useful in the prevention of scurvy.
A cabbage poultice may cause blisters if left on for several hours.