Brassica oleracea

Brassica oleracea is a plant species that includes many common foods as cultivars, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, savoy, kohlrabi, and gai lan.

Brassica oleracea
Wild cabbage plants
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Brassica
B. oleracea
Binomial name
Brassica oleracea

In its uncultivated form, it is called wild cabbage, and is native to coastal southern and western Europe. A hardy plant in its uncultivated form, its high tolerance for salt and lime, and its intolerance of competition from other plants, typically restrict its natural occurrence to limestone sea cliffs, like the chalk cliffs on both sides of the English Channel,[1] and the windswept coast on the western side of the Isle of Wight.

Wild B. oleracea is a tall biennial plant that forms a stout rosette of large leaves in the first year. The leaves are fleshier and thicker than other Brassica species—an adaptation that helps it store water and nutrients in its difficult growing environment. In its second year, it uses the stored nutrients to produce a flower spike 1 to 2 metres (3–7 ft) tall with numerous yellow flowers.

Cultivation and uses

B. oleracea has become established as an important human food crop plant, used because of its large food reserves, which are stored over the winter in its leaves. It is rich in essential nutrients including vitamin C. A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) is linked to a reduced risk of several human cancers.[2][3]

Researchers believe it has been cultivated for several thousand years, but its history as a domesticated plant is not clear before Greek and Roman times, when it was a well-established garden vegetable. Theophrastus mentions three kinds of rhaphanos (ῤάφανος):[4] a curly-leaved, a smooth-leaved, and a wild-type.[5] He reports the antipathy of the cabbage and the grape vine, for the ancients believed cabbages grown near grapes would impart their flavour to the wine.[6] It has been bred into a wide range of cultivars, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, collards, and kale, some of which are hardly recognisable as being members of the same genus, let alone species. The historical genus of Crucifera, meaning "cross-bearing" in reference to the four-petaled flowers, may be the only unifying feature beyond taste.


According to the Triangle of U theory, B. oleracea is very closely related to five other species of the genus Brassica.[7]

The cultivars of B. oleracea are grouped by developmental form into seven major cultivar groups, of which the Acephala ("non-heading") group remains most like the natural wild cabbage in appearance:

In places such as the Channel Islands and Canary Islands, where the frost is minimal and plants are thus freed from seasonality, some cultivars, known as Jersey cabbages, can grow up to 3 m tall.[8] These "tree cabbages" yield fresh leaves throughout the year, are perennial, and do not need to be destroyed at harvest as with a normal cabbage. Their woody stalks are sometimes dried and made into walking sticks.[9][10]


With the advent of agriculture and the domestication of wild crop plants, the people of the northern Mediterranean began cultivating wild cabbage. Through artificial selection for various phenotype traits, the emergence of variations of the plant with drastic differences in looks took only a few thousand years. Preference for leaves, terminal bud, lateral bud, stem, and inflorescence resulted in selection of varieties of wild cabbage into the many forms known today.[11]

Impact of preference[12]

  • The preference for the eating of the leaves led to the selection of plants with larger leaves being harvested and their seeds planted for the next growth. Around the fifth century BC, the formation of what is now known as kale had developed.
  • Preference led to further artificial selection of kale plants with more tightly bunched leaves, or terminal bud. Somewhere around the first century AD emerged the phenotype variation of B. oleracea known as cabbage.
  • Phenotype selection preferences in Germany resulted in a new variation from the kale cultivar. By selecting for fatter stems, the variant plant known as kohlrabi emerged around the first century AD.
  • European preference emerged for eating immature buds, selection for inflorescence. By the 15th century AD, cauliflower had developed, leading also to the emergence of broccoli in Italy about 100 years later.
  • Further selection in Belgium in lateral bud led to Brussels sprouts in the 18th century.

Medicinal use

The Lumbee tribe of North Carolina has traditionally used the leaves of B. oleracea in medicine that they believed to have cleansing qualities, as well as a mild laxative, an anti-inflammatory, and treatment for glaucoma and pneumonia.


Wild cabbageBrassica oleracea var. oleracea
CabbageBrassica oleracea var. capitata f. alba
Savoy cabbageBrassica oleracea var. capitata f. sabauda
Red cabbageBrassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra
Cone cabbageBrassica oleracea var. capitata f. acuta
Gai lanBrassica oleracea var. alboglabra
Collard greensBrassica oleracea var. viridis
Jersey cabbageBrassica oleracea var. longata
Napa cabbageBrassica oleracea var. pekinensis
Ornamental kaleBrassica oleracea var. acephala
KaleBrassica oleracea var. viridis
Lacinato kaleBrassica oleracea var. palmifolia
Perpetual kaleBrassica oleracea var. ramosa
Marrow cabbageBrassica oleracea var. medullosa
Tronchuda kaleBrassica oleracea var. costata
Brussels sproutBrassica oleracea var. gemmifera
KohlrabiBrassica oleracea var. gongylodes
BroccoliBrassica oleracea var. italica
CauliflowerBrassica oleracea var. botrytis
Romanesco broccoliBrassica oleracea var. botrytis
Broccoli di TorboleBrassica oleracea var. botrytis
BroccoflowerBrassica oleracea var. botrytis x italica
BroccoliniBrassica oleracea var. italica × alboglabra


  1. Snogerup, Sven; Gustafsson, Mats; Bothmer, Roland Von (1990-01-01). "Brassica sect. Brassica (Brassicaceae) I. Taxonomy and Variation". Willdenowia. 19 (2): 271–365. JSTOR 3996645.
  2. Verhoeven, D. T.; Goldbohm, R. A.; van Poppel, G.; Verhagen, H.; van den Brandt, P. A. (1996-09-01). "Epidemiological studies on brassica vegetables and cancer risk". Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 5 (9): 733–748. ISSN 1055-9965. PMID 8877066.
  3. Higdon, Jane V.; Delage, Barbara; Williams, David E.; Dashwood, Roderick H. (2007-03-01). "Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologic evidence and mechanistic basis". Pharmacological Research. 55 (3): 224–236. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2007.01.009. ISSN 1043-6618. PMC 2737735. PMID 17317210.
  4. Compare Theophrastus; raphanis (ραφανίς), "radish", also a Brassica.
  5. Zohary, Daniel; Hopf, Maria; Weiss, Ehud (2012). Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin. OUP Oxford. p. 199. ISBN 978-0199549061.
  6. Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants, IV.6.16; Deipnosophistae, I, noting the effects of cabbages on wine and wine-drinkers, also quotes Apollodorus of Carystus: "If they think that our calling it a rhaphanos, while you foreigners call it a krambê, makes any difference to us women!" (on-line English text).
  7. Dixon, G.R. (2007). Vegetable brassicas and related crucifers. Wallingford: CABI. ISBN 978-0-85199-395-9.
  8. Miller, Philip (1835). The Gardeners Dictionary. Volume 1 (9th ed.). p. 208.
  9. Ayto, John (2012). The Diner's Dictionary: Word Origins of Food and Drink. Oxford University Press. p. 187. ISBN 9780199640249.
  10. Williams, Paul H.; Hill, Curtis B. (June 13, 1986). "Rapid-Cycling Populations of Brassica" (pdf). Science. New Series. 232 (4756): 1385–1389. doi:10.1126/science.232.4756.1385. PMID 17828914.
  11. Osnas, Jeanne L. D. (2012-11-05). "The extraordinary diversity of Brassica oleracea". The Botanist in the Kitchen. Retrieved 2016-04-07.
  12. "Vegetables - University of Saskatchewan". Archived from the original on 2016-03-29. Retrieved 2016-04-07.
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