Cabbage Has Been Around For Awhile
Leaf cabbage was first grown for domestic consumption in Central and Western Europe a couple thousand years ago.
Head cabbage didn’t make the scene until the 1300s in merry old England.
Both leaf cabbage and head cabbage became important staples that were carried along the European and Asian trade routes starting in the late 1390s and lasting for at least 300 years.
Cabbage – Much More Than Just a Lot of Hot Air
From the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans – to current times – some people viewed cabbages as a home remedy for gout, headaches, and relief from eating poisonous mushrooms, among other things.
Cabbage juice could heal wounds, cure constipation, prevent the onset of some diseases, sober up drunks, and alleviate hangovers.
Some of these medicinal uses continued well into the 20th century – treating trench foot, ulcers, and abscesses in the First World War.
Sauerkraut has been widely used among European sailors as a source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy during long sea cruises.
Other treatments have also surfaced – for appendicitis, pneumonia, rheumatism, colic, and sore throat. Cabbage poultices were believed to remove boils and warts – as well as reduce fever and the effects of sunstroke.
Believe it or not, it was even used as a cure-all for depression! How ‘bout that? And, I always thought that the best cure for depression was weeding my garden – where I can take out all my aggressions!
With ultra-high fiber content, along with an indigestible sugar called raffinose, cabbage is well known to cause bloating and mild-to-extreme flatulence. This is mostly due to the raffinose – which cannot be broken down by the human body – it must wait to be fermented by the body’s bacteria – and, voilà – you got gas! Then PEE YEW (P.U.) – get the gas mask!
Boil or sauté cabbage in salt water, vinegar, or tomato juice to reduce the offensive, unwelcome gaseous byproduct.
Cabbage is also a common carrier of the bacteria, Listeria or E. coli – otherwise known as food poisoning. And, in the Middle East – India – unclean cabbage has been known to harbor tapeworms.
So, be careful when eating raw cabbage – or, actually, any raw vegetables. Make sure veggies have been washed thoroughly before food preparation.
Removing several layers of outer leaves from head cabbage will remove most of the harmful bacteria. But, insects and worms will dig deeper into the head. Soaking in salt water or vinegar for 20 minutes, will kill almost all of these critters. But, to be super safe, cook the cabbage at high temperatures – bake, boil, sauté, etc. – to rid the veggie of the most resistant critters.
TIP: Use a stainless steel knife to cut cabbage. Low quality carbon steel can turn the leaves black because the carbon reacts to several nutrients present in cabbage. Cut head cabbage in quarters – and, it is easy to remove the core.
How to Eat Cabbage
My favorite cabbage dishes are sauerkraut, , and kimchi. But, I can’t forget corn beef and cabbage or cabbage rolls – they are very tasty, too!
In Ireland, bacon and cabbage – sometimes boiled with potatoes – are very popular. The English something called, bubble and squeak – which is a fried dish of cabbage and leftover veggies.
The Turks like cabbage stew – Germans and Poles love sauerkraut – and, the cuisines of eastern China offer stewed or steamed Napa cabbage in a catchall mixture of pork meatballs and vegetables.
Lastly, my “better half” loves pickled cabbage – not one of my favorite dishes – but, she can’t get along without it!
My Favorite Cabbage Varieties
Cabbages are divided into a couple of groups including:
Red (or purple) cabbage – has smooth leaves and is a favorite for stews and pickling.
White cabbage – has smooth, light green leaves.
Savoy cabbage – is a show off with its curly, soft feeling leaves and delicate flavor.
A couple other groups – commonly lumped into white cabbages – include spring greens, with loose leaves that are sliced and steamed – and green cabbage, which is the most common, commercially grown cabbage.
Favorites for me are:
Early Jersey Wakefield – the American grandchild of the English version – Early Wakefield. It has an amazing flavor – when consumed raw in salads, made into cole slaw, pickled, or cooked in any number of ways. These head cabbages average 3 pounds each.
Brunswick – a German heirloom cabbage with a ton of flavor. The heads can get up to 8 or 9 pounds and are commonly used to make homemade sauerkraut.
White Choi – an early-to-harvest Asian cabbage – baby leaves can be picked in 30 days – full size heads in 60 days – with spoon shaped leaves and thick white stalks. The flavor is a cross between “cabbage light” and spinach. These delectable cabbages are ordinarily used in soups, sautés, and stir fries.
Toy Choi – a dwarf version of White Choi.
NOTE: Most cabbages like a little shade and don’t thrive well in hot, humid growing zones. But, the Asian cabbages – White Choi and Toy Choi – are much more heat tolerant.
I usually don’t mess around with indoor germination, transplanting, and hardening off. Cabbage seeds are meant to be sown directly into the ground as soon as possible – after the last frost – in the spring.
- Plant in sunshine (6 to 8 hours per day minimum) – in soil with good drainage.
- Keep rows at least 2 feet apart and thinly place seeds in the row furrow. The easy way to plant the seeds is with a quality garden seeder.
- Cover with a quarter inch of Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture.
- Water gently – keeping the soil moist, not soggy – until the seedlings start popping up in 2 to 3 weeks.
- When seedlings are a couple inches high, thin out the weaker ones – keeping the saved, stronger ones about 2 feet apart.
And, that’s all there is to it. Just water an inch per week and add a little 10-10-10 fertilizer every few weeks until harvest and you’re home free.
No need to prune – except for removing diseased leaves and plants when necessary.
TIP: Don’t forget to add some mulch around the cabbage plants to help keep the ground cooler, retain moisture, and reduce weed growth.
You can harvest leaves any time after 4 or 5 weeks – usually. When cabbage heads become firm, cut them with a good pair of sharp shears at soil level, remove the outer leaves, and wash the cabbage thoroughly – inspecting for the presence of worms and insects.
Pests and Diseases
Beware – the cabbage worms – or the cabbage loopers – or the cabbage moths – or the aphids. These are the main culprits bent on destroying your cabbage patch.
Companion planting with marigolds – and herbs like rosemary and sage – will help ward off these pests. As a last resort, a good insecticide like Ortho Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer will do the trick.
Downy mildew, powdery mildew, and leaf spot can also target your cabbage plants. Use a fungicide like Daconil to treat these conditions. If the disease is too rampant, it is best to remove the entire plant and toss it in the trash bag. Don’t put it in your compost pile – or, it will return with a vengeance during the next garden season!
A Very Important Question!
What is another name for brussel sprouts?
Answer: Cabbage patch kids, of course!
Have you grown cabbages in your backyard garden? Any stories to tell? Comment below or email me. I respond to all comers!