Cabbage

Grown commercially throughout the United States, cabbages are used for a variety of medicinal purposes in addition to their nutritive benefits.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Cabbage, headed cabbage
  • Scientific nameBrassica oleracea var. capitata
  • Plant typeVegetable
  • Native regionMediterranean
  • Main producer(s)China, Japan, Poland, Russia
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal, Culinary
Cabbage

Traditionally used by the ancient Chinese for medicinal means, cabbage has swept its way around the world and into the homes of many for all occasions, from St. Patrick's Day to daily consumption. Its long list of vitamins and minerals continually benefits those who eat it, but there is much more to know about this European-native superfood.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Immunoprotective
  • Key constituentsAnthocyanins, glucosinolates, antioxidants
  • Ways to useCapsules, Liquid extracts, Juiced, Poultice, Ointment
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Cabbage

Cabbage is high in vitamins A (retinol), K, B6 (pyridoxine), and C (ascorbic acid) as well as the minerals potassium, iron, and manganese, all of which help the body with functioning at its best. Cabbage offers many health benefits, including:

  • Supporting immunity. Cabbage's high amount of antioxidants, which include its high levels of vitamin C, assist in strengthening the immune system.

  • Fighting inflammation and ulcers. The presence of a high amount of polyphenols and anthocyanins allows cabbage to fight inflammation in the body. 

  • Enhancing ocular health. Cabbage's beta-carotene levels help in the prevention of macular degeneration and, thus, assist in keeping cataracts away. 

  • Helping against degenerative diseases. Sulfur-containing chemicals within cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, are believed to play a role in the prevention of a number of degenerative diseases.  

Those who want to lose weight also benefit from consuming cabbage, as it is considered to be one of the best low-calorie food options. According to the Centers for Disease Control, half a cup of raw cabbage has 10 calories with zero grams of fat and cholesterol. The same amount cooked has only five calories more. Moreover, each half cup of cooked cabbage contains 25% of one's daily recommended intake of vitamin C.

How It Works

Although green cabbage is eaten more often, red cabbage offers more nutritional benefits. To begin with, red cabbage is rich in beta-carotene. This nutrient is converted into vitamin A in the body, which is essential for good vision and eye health. Red cabbage also contains a group of phytochemicals known as polyphenols, which protect the body by fighting the free radicals that cause internal inflammation.

Another group of phytochemicals present in red cabbage is anthocyanins, which give this vegetable its color, as well as its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It does this by boosting the production of cytokines, a type of protein that is released to fight specific antigens, generating a protective immune response.

Red cabbage is also high in vitamins A, K, B6, and C as well as the minerals potassium, iron, and manganese. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure and assists with fluid balance in the body. Manganese, a trace mineral, is involved with energy metabolism, which is the process that helps convert proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into energy for cells to use.

Moreover, cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, contain a group of sulfuric compounds called glucosinolates. During food preparation, chewing, and digestion, these compounds are converted into biologically-active compounds, including dietary indoles and isothiocyanates, which are thought to help inhibit the development of degenerative diseases by controlling cellular overgrowth and protecting the body against genotoxic agents.

ALTHOUGH GREEN CABBAGE IS MORE COMMONLY EATEN, RED

CABBAGE IS MORE NUTRITIOUS.

Echinacea and tea plant also have strong immunoprotective properties, and similar anti-inflammatory benefits can be found in herbs like cherry and pumpkin.

Cabbage Side Effects

Cabbage contains high quantities of the complex carbohydrate raffinose, which is indigestible and causes flatulence while passing through the large intestine.  

Cabbage can also cause abdominal discomfort and bloating because of its high insoluble fiber content. Exceeding one's recommended daily amount of fiber may result in diarrhea.

Cabbage Cautions

Those with cardiovascular conditions who are taking blood-thinning medications - or anticoagulants - to lower their risk of blood clots forming should be aware that foods high in vitamin K, such as cabbage, can reduce the effects of the medicine.

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy should also be wary of over consuming cabbage, as it can worsen the diarrhea caused by this treatment.

How to Consume Cabbage

Cabbage is prepared for consumption in a variety of ways. The part of the plant consumed is the compact inner leaves. The core and outer leaves are generally discarded or sometimes used to feed livestock.

Remedies

Main preparations: Raw leaves, extract, ointment, juice, poultice, capsules

  • Raw leaves. In order to treat the ache and inflammation often caused by breastfeeding, apply fresh, clean, and refrigerated leaves directly to the breast skin. When the leaf gets warm and wilted, change it for a fresh one. 

  • Cabbage extract. Due to its natural antioxidant activity, cabbage extract has been shown to lower blood glucose levels, improve renal function, and aid in weight loss. 

  • Cabbage ointment. Topical skunk cabbage ointment is thought to stimulate abrasions and ease pain. Cabbage is also sometimes seen as a main ingredient in some facial creams for acne and other skin conditions. 

  • Cabbage juice. Drinking a mixture of raw carrot and cucumberjuice (80 mL) mixed with raw cabbage juice (40 mL) will make dry hair soft and shiny. The juice can also be used to prevent hair loss by combining 30 mL each of cabbage and cucumber juice together. Massage it into scalp and roots for 10 - 15 minutes before going to bed, and wash it out the following morning. Also, vitamins A and D from the juice work together to clear skin.

  • Cabbage poultice. Cabbage is effective in clearing skin irritations such as acne, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, and more when used as a poultice. Grate the cabbage in a blender. Then, wrap the contents into a cloth and soak the affected area for 15 minutes. 

  • Cabbage capsules. While this use has not been scientifically tested, cabbage capsules are claimed to help out with stomach problems, such as pain and ulcers.

Food

Main ways: Raw, steamed, salad, sauerkraut

  • Raw and steamed cabbage. Light steaming or raw consumption of cabbage is best. Overcooking vegetables destroys many of their vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds.

  • Cabbage salad. Raw cabbage is commonly used in coleslaw and other type of salads; however, watch the fat content, which may be high after mayonnaise is added. 

  • Sauerkraut. Finely-cut cabbage is fermented in lactic acid bacteria. Praised for its distinctive sour flavor and long shelf life, this preparation is consumed as a natural source of probiotics, beneficial bacteria for the digestive tract.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Farmers' markets, Organic markets, Online health stores

In-season cabbages in North America can be purchased in the late fall and winter.

Cabbages can be purchased at most grocery stores and supermarkets, as well as farmers' markets. Choose a firm cabbage that is free of bruises and cracks. Keep cabbage fresh in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Red and green cabbage will keep in the fridge for two weeks, with Savoy cabbage staying fresh for one week.

While sauerkraut can be purchased year round at most supermarkets or food stores, specialty cabbage products, such as extracts and tinctures, can be primarily purchased online.

RED AND GREEN CABBAGE WILL KEEP IN THE FRIDGE FOR TWO WEEKS.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsLeaves
  • Light requirementsFull sun, Partial shade
  • SoilLoamy sand, Well-drained
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral)
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions
  • Planting timeSummer
  • Plant spacing average0.4 m (1.31 ft)
  • Potential insect pestsAphids, Nematodes, Slugs, Cabbage loopers, Cutworms, Flea beetles, Root maggots
  • Potential diseasesBlack rot, Club root, Fusarium wilt, Purple blotch
  • Potential animal pestsRabbits

Cabbage can be cultivated as an annual or biennial crop. There are three main types of cabbage: green, red, and Savoy. Each type is distinct from the others. Green cabbages have colors that range from light green to dark green, and red cabbages range from red to purple with white veins. They both have smooth leaves. Savoy cabbages are not as smooth and are yellowish-green in color. Red and green cabbages have a more pronounced taste and texture.

Savoy cabbage season peaks in the spring, although this variety is widely available throughout the year. Red cabbage peaks in the fall and green in the winter. However, no matter the variety, it's important to follow particular growing guidelines.

Growing Guidelines

  • Cabbages are cool-season vegetables that grow best when daytime temperatures are around 60°F (15°C).

  • Grow cabbages in well-drained, fertile, sandy loam soil that is high in organic matter. Avoid any type of soil that dries rapidly. 

  • Soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.5. Cabbages can tolerate slightly alkaline soil. 

  • Cabbage grows best in full sun. The plant can tolerate light shade, but it will take longer to mature. However, light shade may be helpful in warm weather. 

  • Cabbages are heavy feeders that require consistent moisture

  • Cabbages are propagated by seed. Allow a germination temperature of 45 - 85°F (7 - 29°C). If not planted immediately, seeds can be stored for five years. 

  • Cabbage should be planted 12 - 24 inches (30 - 60 cm) apart, at 0.25 - 0.75 inches (1.3 - 2.0 cm) deep, in rows separated by 18 - 34 inches (46 - 86 cm).

  • Some common pests include cabbage aphids, cabbage root maggots, cabbageworms, flue beetles, cutworms, cabbage loopers, slugs, and nematodes

  • Potential diseases include clubroot, purple blotch, black leg, black rot, and cabbage yellows.

Extended information about growing cabbage can be found in the herb garden section.

Additional Information

Plant Biology 

The cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable with a compact head and overlapping leaves. The head, the part of the plant that is consumed, consists of the stem terminal and densely-packed leaves. As the outermost leaves spread and grow, the head is protected throughout the entire growing process. In turn, when ready for consumption, the protecting leaves are not eaten.

  • Classification

    Cabbage belongs to the Brassica genus and it is a member of the Brassicaceae (formerly Cruciferae) botanical group, also known as the cabbage or mustard family, which comprises about 360 genera and over 3709 species - mostly herbaceous plants -, several of them with great medicinal, nutritional, and economic value, such as arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, and mustard, often called "cruciferous vegetables."

  • Varieties and Cultivars of Cabbage

    There are hundreds of varieties that differ in color, texture, and shape. However, in the United States, the most popular varieties are the green, red, Savoy, bok choy, and Napa. Some hybrids are resistant to certain diseases and insects. Late varieties grow larger heads and tend to store better or are used to make sauerkraut.

    Some of the more common late-season cultivars include 'January King', 'Late Flat Dutch', and 'Brunswick'. More common early- and mid-season cultivars include 'Fast Ball', 'Henderson's Charleston Wakefield', and 'Cuor di Bue Grosso'.

    There are some recommended green and red cabbage hybrids that are resistant to fusarium wilt, a common fungal disease that turns leaves yellow. The green cabbage hybrids include 'Cheers' and 'Early Jersey Wakefield'; red cabbage hybrids include 'Red Meteor' and 'Ruby Ball'.

Historical information

Native to the Mediterranean region that includes parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe, cabbage is one of the oldest vegetables known and has been cultivated for over 4,000 years, with records dating back to in ancient China. It was brought to Europe around 600 BCE by groups of Celtic wanderers. Ancient Greeks and Romans used it medicinally, as well as the Chinese, who prescribed it for treating ailments such as the common cold, constipation, hot flashes, and more. It is said that sauerkraut was used since 200 BCE as a staple food to feed the laborers of the Great Wall of China. In European folk medicine, cabbage was made into a paste to relieve inflammation.

While it's unclear where and when today's headed cabbage was originally developed, cultivation spread across Northern Europe into Germany, Poland, and Russia.

Economic Data

Today, Russia, Poland, China, and Japan are the leading producers of the Savoy cabbage. Cabbage is also considered Russia's national food, with Russians eating about seven times as much cabbage as the average North American.

Did you know?

Cabbage demand increases in March because of the St. Patrick's Day holiday, which is associated with the traditional corned beef and cabbage meal.

The majority of cabbage is used for coleslaw, followed by fresh head lettuce and then sauerkraut. Commercial production in the United States is around 1.3 million tons, of which around 200,000 tons is fermented into sauerkraut.

Since the cabbage is considered a cool-weather crop, most production happens in the fall, winter, and spring in the southern part of the United States, with the northern states producing during the summer. New York, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and California cultivate 75% of the cabbage on the market.

Popular Beliefs

It is traditionally believed that eating cabbage on New Year's Eve will bring good luck and that the leaves represent prosperity.

Other Uses

Cabbage is also used as a pH indicator, due to its content of anthocyanins, which change color depending on the level of acidity of the solutions. In a highly acidic solution, it will become reddish-pink, while a neutral environment turns it purple. An alkaline solution gives it a bluish-green to yellow hue.

The assortment of vitamins and minerals present within cabbages makes them a healthy addition to a balanced diet. This cruciferous vegetable assists the body in boosting immunity, improving ocular health, and fighting inflammation, among other health benefits that make it worth to try in any meal, whether as a side dish or a main course.

Bibliography

  • Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) content of green vegetables: effects of plant maturation and geographical growth location, 1992
  • University of Maryland Medical Center, Beta-carotene
  • Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Red Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) Ameliorates Diabetic Nephropathy in Rats, 2007
  • Oncology Nutrition, Constipation, Diarrhea and Fiber
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  • Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Diarrhea
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  • Pick Your Way to Better Health, p. 20 - 21
  • The Natural Health Dictionary
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  • Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Commodity Profile: Cabbage | Cabbage
  • University of Arizona, Green Cabbage
  • University of Illinois, Watch Your Garden Grow: Cabbage
  • Cornell University, Growing Guide: Cabbage
  • Pharmacognosy Reviews, Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health, 2010
  • Food and Drug Administration, Avoid Food-Drug Interactions, p. 15
  • Purdue University, Center for New Crops & Plants Products - Food and feed crops of the United States