Brassica oleracea

Cabbage Family [Brassicaceae]

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(var. oleracea)

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
A biennial plant with just a rosette of basal leaves in its first year. In its second year it can produce a flowering stem to 1 or 2 metres high.

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are glaucous green/grey, wrinkly and irregularly lobed/toothed,

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Flowering stem, which is purplish, has many flowering branches.

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
As yet un-opened buds. Upper leaves clasp the stem.

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Flowers pale yellow and well over-topped by un-opened buds.

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The sepals behind the flower are at an angle of 45° upwards.

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Four pale-yellow petals, and four stamens with cream-coloured pollen.

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Un-opened bud.

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Upper stem with leaves that clasp the stem.

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Irregularly shaped glaucous leaves; mid-rib may be reddened.

28th April 2011, River Ribble, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Basal rosette of leaves in first year.

Not to be confused with : Cabbage Palm, American Skunk-Cabbage, Asian Skunk-cabbage, St Patrick's Cabbage or Cabbage Thistle [plants with similar names but belonging to differing families]. Nor with Isle of Man Cabbage, Wallflower Cabbage or Bastard Cabbage [plants belonging to the same Cabbage Family and with similar names]

Easily mistaken for: Oil-Seed Rape (Brassica napus ssp. oleifera) and probably Rape (Brassica napus) but the un-opened buds of Oil-seed Rape only overtop the flowers by a small margin rather than by a considerable amount as in the case of Wild Cabbage. The sepals behind the flowers are also subtly different, as are the leaves.

A variation of Wild Cabbage exists, (Brassica oleracea var. oleracea), which has the same common name [Wild Cabbage] but which is much less prevalent. The above photographs are not of this variation.

The sub-species of Brassica Oleracea are the vegetables that are bought in the green-grocers. Cauliflower is Brassica oleracea ssp. botrytis, Brocolli Brassica oleracea ssp. italica, Savoy Cabbage Brassica oleracea ssp. sabauda, Kale Brassica oleracea ssp. viridis, Turnip, Brussels Sprouts Brassica oleracea ssp., Pak Choi Brassica oleracea ssp. chinensis whilst Kohlrabi is Brassica oleracea ssp. gongylodes. There are many more.

These are normally all arranged into several Cultivar Groups:

  • (Brassica oleracea) Acephela Group - Collard greens and Kale
  • (Brassica oleracea) Alboglabra Group - Chinese broccoli
  • (Brassica oleracea) Botyris Group - Cauliflower
  • (Brassica oleracea) Botyris × Italica Group - Broccoflower and Romanesco Broccoli
  • (Brassica oleracea) Capitata Group - Cabbage
  • (Brassica oleracea) Gemnifera Group - Brussels Sprouts
  • (Brassica oleracea) Gongylodes Group - Kohlrabi
  • (Brassica oleracea) Italica Group - Broccoli
  • (Brassica oleracea) Oleracea Group - Wild Cabbage - this page!
  • (Brassica oleracea) Savoy Cabbage Group - Savoy Cabbage

Inhabits the limestone coastal cliffs as a speciality, but is also found well inland as a casual.

Recent research has un-covered many constituents of brassica vegetables (which are present to a greater or lesser extent, depending upon the type of brassica) that have great benefits, such as protection from various cancers, when eaten.

Large White


Amongst these is Sulforaphane, a thiocyanate, which is derived from the glucosinolate Glucoraphanin by the action of the enzyme Myrinosase (present in the cells of the vegetable) on Sulforaphane. See other Glucosinolates.

It is found in abundance in Broccoli and to a lesser extent in Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Bok Choi, Kale, Collards, Mustard, Turnip, Radish and Water-cress. Levels have even been tripled in a recently cultivated variety of Broccoli. Sulforaphane has anti-cancer properties. It actively destroys cancer cells in hormone-dependent organs such as prostrate glands and breast tissue. By inhibiting the enzyme Histone Deacetylase (HDAC enzymes) which provides energy for the initiation of cancer the sulforaphane stops cancer from developing. It is also currently under trials to see if it can protect against osteoarthritis and cartilage problems in the knees.

By studying the two chemical structural formulae it will be seen that one of the atoms of sulfur in Sulforaphane has been grossly re-arranged from the sulfur-containing side-chain within Glucoraphanin (in the centre of glucoraphanin).

Other glucosinolates in members of the Brassica Genus are Glucobrassicin and Sinalbin.

Glucobrassicin has an indole group (top left) and is found in almost all members of the Brassicaceae Family. It does not degrade into the expected isothiocyanate indol-3-yl -methyl -isothiocyanate, which is highly unstable, but instead is degraded (by the enzyme myrosinase) into a thiocyanate ion plus (amongst many other products) Indole-3-Carbinol, which is illustrated on this page.

Glucobrassicin is a highly active stimulant for egg-laying in the cabbage white butterflies (such as the Small White and the Large White), which is one of the reasons they target cabbages.

Sinalbin is another glucosinolate, this one found in the seeds of White Mustard (Sinapis alba). Another similarly named glucosinolate, called Sinigrin is found in the seeds of Black Mustard (Brassica nigra). Both are also found in many other brassicas. Sinalbin is degraded by the enzyme myrosinase into the highly unstable and pungent mustard oil 4-hydroxybenzyl isothiocyanate (not shown), which has a half life of only 1 to 2 hours. It degrades to the relatively odourless 4-HydroxyBenzene and a thiocyanate ion.

Sinigrin, another glucosinolate found in only some members of the Brassicaceae Family such as Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Horseradish and the seeds of Black Mustard, is degraded by the enzyme myrosinase which is contained within the vegetable cells themselves. This degradation is initiated on either ingestion of the vegetable or by crushing it. It degrades into yet another mustard oil, Allyl IsoThioCyanate (2-PropenylGlucosinolate), which is responsible for the pungent taste and lachrymatory action of both mustard and of Horseradish. Allyl-IsoThiocyanate serves as a plant defence against herbivores and insects. Since Allyl-IsoThioCyanate is harmful to the plant itself, it is only released when the cells are damaged, such as by eating. Allyl-Isothiocyanate, which is fairly toxic, is also known as volatile oil of mustard and is used as a flavouring in foods and as an insecticide, bacteriocide and nematocide. It tastes of mustard because mustard contains some Allyl-IsoThioCyanate.

A few of the above Brassicaceae Family vegetables, such as Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Horseradish and Black Mustard seeds also contain Sinigrin, another glucosinolate which may protect against colon cancer. Over-cooking Brussels Sprouts releases Sinigrin, which gives the sprouts a slightly un-pleasant sulfurous odour.

Many of the brassica sub-species are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K Selenium, 3,3'-DiIndolylMethane, Indole-3-Carbinol, Goitrin and compounds similar to Phenylthiocarbamide PTC) (but not actually PTC itself).


3,3'-DiIndolylMethane, or DIM, is a constituent of many brassica species and has a multiplicity of biological properties, amongst them are anti-angiogenesis, anti-inflammation, anti-viral, anti-biotic, anti-cancer, anti-androgen as well as cytostasis, apoptosis and hormone control.

It is a dimer of Methyl Indole and is used pharmaceutically to treat recurring respiratory papillomatosis, which is thought to be caused by HPV infection.

Indole-3-Carbinol boosts the repairing of DNA within cells and may block the growth of some cancers, particularly those of breast cancer. It possibly possesses anti-carcinogenic, anti-oxidative and anti-atherogenic properties.


Goitrin is an un-desirably compound present in many sub-species of the Brassica Family, such as in Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts and Oil-Seed Rape; it acts as a goitrinogen, interfering with thyroid hormone production within the body, lowering it. This leads to a reduction in the up-take of iodine in the thyroid hormones Tyroxine (T4) and Tri-iodothyronine (T3) which can result in the disease goitre. Needless to say, neither of these human hormones are present in Brassica species. Goitrin has just one carbon atom in the side chain less than that of Oxazolidine-Thione. Oxazolidine-Thione is an even more potent and dangerous goitrinogen than Goitrin itself. However, eating vegetables containing goitrinogens at the amounts usually eaten seems to have no effect on the production of thyroid hormones.

It will be seen that the only difference between the two Thyroid hormones is that Throxime, with four iodine atoms, has one additional iodine atom (all shown in indigo).

See also Epi Progoitrin, which is also contained within some plants of the Brassica Genus.


The presence of compounds similar to PhenylThioCarbamide (PTC) in many Brassica sub-species is the reason why some people dis-like these green vegetables, particularly Brussels Sprouts. Depending upon the genetic make-up of the taster, PTC tastes either very bitter, or is taste-less. The ability to taste PTC is a dominant genetic trait; it tastes very bitter to only approximately 70% of humans.

PTC itself is absent from Brassica species, but they do contain similar compounds that taste bitter, or not, depending upon the genetic trait of the individual taster.

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Brassica oleracea

Cabbage Family [Brassicaceae]

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