Brassica oleracea is the species of plant that includes many common foods as cultivars, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, savoy, and Chinese kale. In its uncultivated form it is known as wild cabbage. It is native to coastal southern and western Europe. Its tolerance of 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.
Wild B. oleracea is a tall biennial plant, 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.
Brassica (pron.: /ˈbræsɨkə/ brás-si-ca) is a genus of plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). The members of the genus are collectively known as cruciferous vegetables, cabbages, or mustards. Crops from this genus are sometimes called cole crops, which is derived from the Latin caulis, meaning stem or cabbage.
Common types of brassica used for food include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and some types of seeds. The genus is known for containing many important agricultural and horticultural crops. It also includes a number of weeds, both wild taxa and escapees from cultivation. It includes over 30 wild species and hybrids, and numerous additional cultivars and hybrids of cultivated origin. Most are annuals or biennials, but some are small shrubs. Due to their agricultural importance, Brassica plants have been the subject of much scientific interest. Six particularly important species (Brassica carinata, B. juncea, B. oleracea, B. napus, B. nigra and B. rapa) are derived by combining the chromosomes from three earlier species, as described by the Triangle of U theory.
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea or variants) is a leafy green biennial, grown as an annual vegetable for its dense-leaved heads. Closely related to other cole crops, such as broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, it descends from B. oleracea var. oleracea, a wild field cabbage. Cabbage heads generally range from 1 to 8 pounds (0.5 to 4 kg), and can be green, purple and white. Smooth-leafed firm-headed green cabbages are the most common, with smooth-leafed red and crinkle-leafed savoy cabbages of both colors seen more rarely.
It is difficult to trace the exact history of cabbage, but it was most likely domesticated somewhere in Europe before 1000 BC. By the Middle Ages it was a prominent part of European cuisine, although savoys were not developed until the 16th century. Cabbage heads are generally picked during the first year of the plants' life cycles, but those intended for seed are allowed to grow a second year, and must be kept separated from other cole crops to prevent cross pollination. Cabbage is prone to several nutrient deficiencies, as well as multiple pests, bacteria and fungal diseases.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that world production of cabbage and other brassicas (these plants are combined by the FAO for reporting purposes) for calendar year 2010 was almost 58,000,000 metric tons (57,000,000 long tons; 64,000,000 short tons). Almost half were grown in China. Cabbages are prepared in many different ways for eating, although pickling, in dishes such as sauerkraut, is the most popular. Cabbage is a good source of beta-carotene, vitamin C and fiber. Cabbage when contaminated is sometimes a source of food-borne illness in humans.