The cabbage family has been a dietary staple almost since folks figured out farming. It is likely that arugula was the first family member cultivated. It grew as a weed in the Cradle of Civilization grain fields. Being edible and better adapted to some situations, it soon became a crop.
The ancient Egyptians grew the cabbage we know and love. They dried the leaves to eat in the offseason as well as eating it fresh. Prior to the arrival of olive trees, they grew radishes to press oil from their seeds.
The Greeks and Romans thought that a first course of cabbage salad prevented hangovers! Writers of the period tell us that they also ate broccoli and Brussels sprouts though neither that city nor Belgium existed back then.
Radishes continued to be popular. The Romans were connoisseurs of mustard greens, having three different cultivars. Over in ancient Asia, they were growing bok choy and Napa cabbages, mustard greens, kohlrabi and radishes. Most likely cauliflower is also of Asian origin.
The popularity of these vegetables as well as kale and turnips continued throughout the Middle Ages. Rutabagas and cauliflower do not appear until later. Genghis Khan and his hoard introduced the notion of using salt to preserve cabbage. Fortunately, sauerkraut caught on quickly because vitamin C is not diminished by the curing process. Sauerkraut was the main source of vitamin C during the winter.
Members of the cabbage family are nutrient packed. Cabbage itself is a good source of vitamins A, C, B and D. It also contains iron, phosphorous and calcium. Unfortunately, cooking reduces its nutrient content dramatically. Kale contains twice the daily dose of vitamins A and C and is rich in calcium, iron and vitamin K. Cauliflower is high in phosphorous, sulfur, calcium, folic acid and vitamins A and C. Broccoli is a good source of vitamin K and well as A and C.
By and large, all these vegetables are cool-season crops. Transplants of broccoli and cauliflower will soon be available to plant in the fall garden. The rest can be grown directly from seed. Greens are quite cold tolerant and so may last well into the winter as will Brussels sprouts.
Now is the time to start planning your cabbage-family plot. August is the perfect time to sow seed for these crops. Turnips can be sown in September as well. Apply a balanced fertilizer at the time of planting to get the garden off to a good start.
This summer my grocery store has been featuring “chopped” salad kits from various vendors. One or another is always on sale. Loving novelty as well as convenience, we have sampled a few. Most of them feature many members of the cabbage family shredded together in one bag. It has been a great way to get acquainted with some vegetables I never thought of as candidates for the salad bowl.
Nutritious as well as delicious--what more could one want?
Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant keep her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.