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Botanical Name: Brassica oleracea
Species: B. oleracea
Synonyms : Brassica sylvestris.
Habitat : Brassica oleracea is native to Coastal regions of the Mediterranean and W. Europe north to France and Britain. Its high tolerance of salt and lime and its intolerance of competition from other plants typically restrict its natural occurrence to limestone sea cliffs.
Biennial/Perennial growing to 1.2m.Wild forming a stout rosette of large leaves in the first year, the leaves being fleshier and thicker than those of other species of Brassica, adaptations to store water and nutrients in its difficult growing environment. In its second year, the stored nutrients are used to produce a flower spike 1 to 2 metres (3–7 ft) tall bearing numerous yellow flowers.
They have smooth margins and look like the outer or basal, non-heading leaves of cabbage. The lower leaves tend to sag down and the upper ones are more erect and cup-shaped. Kale leaves are not as thick as collards and in many cultivars they are fringed or wavy-edged. Kale plants, and their leaves, are smaller than those of collards. There are many cultivars of kale and collards. Some were selected more for ornamental use than food.
It is hardy to zone 7 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from May to August, and the seeds ripen from July to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees. The plant is self-fertile.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Leaves – raw or cooked. Slightly bitter raw, they can be cooked in one or more changes of water. We find that the slight bitterness actually enhances the flavour, and this is one of our favourite cooked leaves. The plant can usually be harvested all year round, though there will be little to pick in very cold winters.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Anthelmintic; Cardiotonic; Diuretic; Laxative; Stomachic.
The leaves are cardiotonic and stomachic. They have been used in the treatment of gout and rheumatism. The leaves can be used as a poultice to cleanse infected wounds – the mid-rib is removed and the leaf ironed then placed on the affected area whilst still hot. The poultice should not be left on too long or it an cause blisters. The seeds are anthelmintic, diuretic, laxative and stomachic.
Cabbages 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 quite sensible. The leaves can be used as a poultice to cleanse infected wounds – the mid-rib is removed and the leaf ironed then placed on the affected area whilst still hot. The seeds are anthelmintic, diuretic, laxative and stomachic. 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.
An easily grown plant, it succeeds in full sun in any reasonable soil, though it prefers a well-drained fertile preferably alkaline soil. It does well in heavy clay soils. It is often found wild by the coast and tolerates considerable maritime exposure. The true wild cabbage is a short-lived perennial, though we have seen specimens 5 years old or more[K]. This species has long been cultivated for its edible leaves, stems etc and a wide diversity of forms have been developed, including cabbages, cauliflowers, broccolis and Brussels sprouts. Most of these forms are biennial in cultivation, though there are also some perennial forms. These different forms are detailed below and have each been given their own entry in the database. We have chosen the most up to date classification we can find, as treated in ‘World Economic Plants’. B. oleracea alboglabra. Chinese kales are fast-growing plants with tender edible leaves. Although perennials, they are usually grown as annuals and are eaten as a summer and autumn crop whilst still young. B. oleracea botrytis. Cauliflowers are grown mainly for their edible swollen inflorescence. Different cultivars can be used to provide crops all year round. B. oleracea botrytis aparagoides. A short-lived perennial form of cauliflower producing a small cauliflower head in the spring followed by a number of broccoli-like flowering shoots. B. oleracea capitata. These are the cultivated cabbages, grown for their edible leaves that usually form a compact head. Reasonably winter hardy, different cultivars can be used to provide edible plants all year round. B. oleracea costata. Couve tronchuda is a tall-growing form of cabbage. It is less hardy than most other forms of this genus. B. oleracea gemmifera. Brussels sprouts form large edible axillary buds 5cm or more long. They are mainly used as late autumn to spring crops. B. oleracea gongylodes. Kohl rabi produces an edible swollen stem 8cm or more in diameter. It is reasonably cold hardy and provides crops from mid summer to the winter. B. oleracea italica. The calabreses and sprouting broccolis, grown mainly for their edible flowering shoots. Calabrese is the less hardy and is used mainly as an autumn and early winter crop. The sprouting broccolis are very winter hardy and are grown outdoors through the winter to provide a spring to early summer crop. B. oleracea medullosa. Marrowstem kales have edible leaves and stems. B. oleracea palmifolia. The Jersey kale produces a very tall stem which has been used as a walking stick. B. oleracea ramosa. The thousand-headed and perennial kales are very cold hardy. Their flavour is stronger than most of the other cultivated forms and they are mainly used as a winter crop. This form is very close to the wild species and has the most potential for developing perennial cultivars. B. oleracea subauda. The savoy cabbages form large heads like the cultivated cabbages (B. oleracea capitata). They have a stronger flavour, crinkly leaves and are generally more cold-hardy so can provide a winter crop in areas with quite severe winters. B. oleracea sabellica. The curly kales have attractively curled leaves. These are quite cold-tolerant plants and are mainly used to provide edible leaves in winter and spring. B. oleracea viridis. Collards are a cold-hardy non-heading form of cabbage, used mainly to provide green leaves in the spring.
Seed – sow April in situ. Seedlings transplant very well and so, if you sow the seed too thickly, it is a simple matter to move some of the plants to give them more space. Cuttings root very easily at almost any time in the growing season[K]. Use shoots about 8cm long of the current year’s growth and place them in individual pots in the cuttings frame.
This is a perennial form of cabbage that is said to live for 20 years or more. The leaves are a very dark green and look somewhat like the leaves of savoy cabbages, though the plant does not form a heart. The flavour is very good and the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant can be harvested all year round. The shoot tips are removed when about 15 – 20cm long, making sure that there is plenty of stem left. The plant then forms new sideshoots along the stem and these can also be harvested in their turn.
Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.