Brassicas, the Most Successful Food Plants and Healers.
Brassicas are perhaps the most successful genus of food plants of which our humble cabbage is the most commonly eaten. At my local research centre at John Innes’s in Norwich, they have been carrying out genetic research into the modern cabbage for decades, with their focus on naturally occurring cancer inhibiting agents, like sulforaphane, genistein, indoles and more that can help to inhibit the growth of tumours.
From cabbage syrup to cabbage poultices and cabbage juice we’ve been using the cabbage since recorded language can tell us so. They were cultivated extensively by religious orders for food and medicine and Pliny has 80 medicinal uses for them. The French naturopath Dr Valnet (1920-1995) called it ‘the doctor of the poor!’ not least because they are rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium, essential for bone growth. Indeed, James Duke, the famous herbalist and ethnobotanist rates cabbage his top herb for osteoporosis. He explains that the boron in cabbage helps raise oestrogen levels in the blood which is beneficial for bone preservation.
Where did they originate from?
The wild or sea cabbage is still to be seen on our coastlines and is, in fact, the forerunner of our cultivated ones which gave breeding lines into kales, cabbages (as we know them), Brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Its thick and succulent leaves protect it from the sun, salt and the cold (just above freezing). We eat them plain or create elaborate recipes, sometimes raw, marinated or cooked. We have our beloved coleslaw, or lesser known ‘kimchi’ and of course the favourite in Europe, ‘sauerkraut’.
Some of Cabbages' Wide-Ranging Abilities
- Rich in sulphur (infection fighter). High levels of antioxidants ( especially in the red cabbage) like carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin as well as flavonoids like quercetin, apigenin and kaempferol, which make cabbage hugely anti-inflammatory.
- Great for weight loss as rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre (roughage) and naturally low in calories.
- Useful as a poultice externally for swellings, achy joints, varicose veins and leg ulcers. Caution If you ever use cabbage leaves as a poultice (and it can relieve painful joints etc) it can cause blisters if left on several hours. To use ‘iron’ the mid-rib of the cabbage in order to heat it up to release medicinal content. Then lay on the area.
- Once fermented as sauerkraut and kimchi, it will be rich in natural probiotics, aiding immunity, enriching gut flora and helping digestion.
- Good for brain health especially due to its vitamin K and anthocyanins (especially red coloured ones).
- Can help regulate blood pressure due to potassium levels.
- Great detoxifier as it purifies the blood and removes toxins, primarily free radicals and uric acid which are the main causes of rheumatism, gout, eczema etc.
- Useful for respiratory difficulties and harsh coughs (cabbage juice especially).
Cabbage the antidote for a hangover?
Known to be detoxifying, the Romans used cabbage as an antidote to almost anything (and used the leaves to clean infected wounds) but they also laid great store for using it with excesses of alcohol, believing it countered intoxication and prevented or reduced a hangover. We do know that it helps the liver break down toxins so they were definitely right to use this.
Sauerkraut and Vitamin C
The origins of sauerkraut are apparently from the 16th century on long ocean journeys when high amounts of vitamin C were vital. The cabbage was preserved in brine (sauerkraut basically) and helped treat wounds and prevent gangrene. (There are lots of delicious recipes out there, all easy to make at home).
How to make Cabbage Juice
2.5 cm thick slice of cabbage (1”)
Add 1 cup of spring water
Blend (Nutribullet or similar) and drink.
Start low dose if you're new to this, say 20 mls. You can drink 20 mls three times a day if you feel good and you can always opt to further dilute it.
Caution on Dose
If you drink too much in one go, (over 100 mls) you can create wind as the sulphur it contains will react with the bacteria in the gut. This is why putting it with Apple Cider Vinegar (Sauerkraut) counteracts this effect so nicely
Red or White Cabbage?
I favour the red cabbage over the traditional white due to the ‘anthocyanins’ found in the red pigment. This makes the effect ever more anti-inflammatory (cabbage is very anti-inflammatory overall) and will help stomach ulcers and gastric reflux.
You can of course simply add cabbage or other brassica plants to your standard smoothie. Try it with your Superfood Plus and a little bit of cinnamon powder for extra flavour.
Lorna Driver Davies BA (Hons), HD, DHNP, Member of FNTP
Lorna is a fully qualified Holistic Nutritional Practitioner (nutritional therapy), herbal medicine dispenser and is the Director of Feel Better Nutrition.
Co-Director & Herbal Practitioner at Herbs Hands Healing
Advice Line: (+44) 01379 608201 Mon – Fri 9.00-1.00pm except Thursday 11.30-1.00pm