The Charm of Cabbage
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitate) is a cool season vegetable that comes in both purple and green and is related to other vegetables such as broccoli, romanesco, horseradish, and cauliflower. This Mediterranean native has been around for over 4,000 years and was used medicinally by the ancient Romans and Greeks. Cabbage was brought to Europe around 600 B.C.E., and around 200 B.C.E. the Celts began using it to make sauerkraut. Later sailors used sauerkraut to combat scurvy and German settlers brought it to the USA.
When looking at the nutritional profile of cabbage, it’s no wonder the sailors and ancient civilization used it to combat sickness and disease. In a 1 cup (88 grams) serving, cabbage offers 22 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, and 5 grams of carbohydrates (2 grams of which is dietary fiber). Cabbage is an excellent source of Vitamins C and K-1, and a good source of Vitamin B-6 (folate). Cabbage also offers Vitamins A, E, and all the remaining B’s (except for B-12) and the minerals calcium, copper, non-heme iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. This member of the Brassicaceae family also provides a plethora of phytochemicals including sulforaphane, thiocyanates, indole-3-carbinol, lutein, zeaxanthin, and isothiocyanates. These phytochemicals help reduce inflammation, provide cancer risk reduction, and improve cognitive health.
To grow this nutritional powerhouse vegetable, it’s best to plant seeds indoors 8 weeks before the last predicted spring frost in your area. After hardening the seedlings over a week’s time, plant them 2 weeks before the last predicted frost. Plant the seedlings in full sun, 1’ apart, unless you are going to grow large heads, in that case plant them 2’ apart. After planting, water cabbage consistently with about 2”/week. It’s best not to plant cabbage with other members of the Brassicaceae family, as they can deplete the soil. Plus, members of the same family shouldn’t be planted the following year in the same plot, as improper crop rotation can lead to a buildup of disease and pests. However, it is beneficial to plant cabbage with herbs such as rosemary, dill, thyme, sage, or peppermint. These aromatic herbs help repel unwanted insects.
If you do find you have pests, such as the cabbage worm, there are a few things you can do. Beyond using floating row covers you can manually pick off worms and other unwanted insects. You can also mix up some garlic water and spray on your veggies. All you need is garlic juice, fish oil, and water. You will need 7-8 teaspoons each for both the garlic juice and the fish oil mixed with a gallon of water. Spray your plants liberally until the leaves are saturated.
After about 75 days of growing, your cabbage heads will be ready to harvest. Look for heads that are firm and the desired size you wanted to grow. Using a sharp knife carefully cut the head at the base and bring in out of the sun. You can store your cabbage for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Just be sure to dry it completely and wrap in plastic. It is possible to get two crops from your early cabbage plants. To accomplish this, cut the cabbage head out of the plant, but allow the outer leaves and roots to remain. Your cabbage plant will send up new heads. When this occurs, pinch most of them off, permitting only 3 or 4 smaller heads to continue growing. Once these smaller heads reach the size of a tennis ball, they will be ready to harvest. When you have harvested all your crop remove the entire stem and root system. These can be composted if free of disease. Doing so will improve your compost pile and prevent disease buildup in your garden’s soil.
Once you have harvested your cabbage, now is the time to enjoy it. Cabbage is great roasted, added to soups, and is fabulous for sauerkraut. One of the things I like cabbage most for is making a good coleslaw. Coleslaw can be made many different ways. My favorite recipe is as follows.
Creamy Apple Coleslaw
1 small or ½ large head of cabbage – thinly sliced and chopped
2 tablespoons salt
2 medium carrots – grated
1 apple – cored and coarsely chopped
¼ cup fresh dill – finely chopped
½ cup yogurt
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Place cabbage and salt in a large bowl and toss
Place cabbage in a colander for 1-3 hours to allow it to drain
Rinse the cabbage thoroughly until all the salt has been removed
Place cabbage in a large bowl
Add all remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly (if yogurt doesn’t coat the cabbage mixture completely add in additional yogurt)
Taste your coleslaw and add in more of the herbs and spices if needed
Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving
Stir before serving
Green or purple, cabbage is a lovely plant to have growing in your garden. As long as it has cool weather to grow in, it will thrive and produce a healthy crop. This healthy crop will provide you with many health benefits and a wealth of recipe possibilities. So, when spring rolls around, spring into action and make sure to get this charming plant growing in your garden!
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
University of Illinois Extension. 2017. University of Illinois. Watch Your Garden Grow. Cabbage. https://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/cabbage.cfm