Plant science at the dinner table: Cabbage

Fun facts and folklore about cabbage.

One of my favorite vegetables is cabbage, and coincidently one of my all-time favorite children’s books is “The Giant Cabbage” by Cherie B. Stihler. This book is a spin-off of the Russian Folktale, “The Giant Turnip.” In “The Giant Cabbage”, Moose is trying to get his giant cabbage to the Alaska State Fair. With help, the team of Alaskan wildlife work together to get the cabbage loaded into Moose’s truck and off to the fair, as it is sure to win.

The most amusing part of this story is there are really giant cabbages at the Alaska State Fair. According to Steve Brown, an agricultural agent at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, “The Alaskan sun is the key to growing giant vegetables.” The ultimate source of solar energy, the sun shines up to 20 hours per day in Alaska in the summertime. This allows plants to grow very, very large. All of that energy equals photosynthesis on steroids. According to Brown, the extra sunlight also makes the produce sweeter.

Scott Robb of Palmer, Alaska, is currently the proud world record title holder of the largest cabbage. He won that title at the 17th annual Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off in 2012, with a mammoth cabbage weighing in at 138.25 pounds. I am sure he had a team to move his prize-winning cabbage just like Moose.

On a visit to Anchorage, Alaska, a few summers ago, I was delighted to see the sidewalks lined with these over-sized magnificent vegetables. Even though this sounds a little strange, I am sure any of you who have visited Anchorage in the late summertime were as fascinated as I was with their beauty.

After reading “The Giant Cabbage,” you might want to serve up a great meal of fresh cabbage from the garden, which might include coleslaw, cabbage rolls, grilled cabbage steaks, spring rolls, or one of my favorites, plain, raw sliced cabbage. Along with cabbage, serve up some plant science as you impress your friends and family with some of the following fun facts about cabbage.

Fun facts about cabbage

  • Cabbage is from the family CruciferaeThe family name comes from the Latin word meaning cross, because the flowers are cross-shaped.
  • Evidence shows cabbages have been cultivated for over 4,000 years. Brussels sprouts, which are in the cabbage family, are the youngest with records dating back only 500 years.
  • Cabbage is considered Russia’s national food. Russians eat more than seven times as much cabbage as the average North American.
  • Legends of babies coming from cabbage patches have been told to children throughout the ages, and there are famous cabbage patch dolls.
  • Babe Ruth used to wear a cabbage leaf under his baseball cap during games and it is reported he switched it out for a new leaf halfway through the game.
  • Scrolls from 1000 BC found in China stated cabbage could be used to cure baldness in men.
  • At the turn of the century, cabbage was thought to be food for poor people. Now it is regarded as one of the most nutritional vegetables and is thought to have strong anti-aging and anti-cancer properties.
  • Cabbage is often associated with the Irish. Corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, anyone?
  • The Celts brought cabbage to Europe from Asia around 600 BC.
  • Cabbage is available in many varieties: red or purple, green and Napa cabbage, usually found in Chinese cooking.
  • Cabbage is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Cabbage is high in dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, potassium, manganese, vitamin A, thiamin, vitamin B6, calcium and iron.
  • One cup of cabbage is about 15 calories.
  • Drinking juiced cabbage is known to assist in curing stomach and intestinal ulcers.
  • Cabbage contains quantities of fiber and iron, which help keep the digestive tract and colon in a healthy condition.
  • A thick-witted person may be called a cabbagehead. In Hebrew, the term “rosh kruv” (cabbagehead) implies stupidity.

To learn more about growing cabbage, see these Michigan State University Extension resources:

For a cabbage relish recipe, see:

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