The Backyard Larder

A place to explore and buy perennial vegetables and other food plants.

Wonderful Wild Sea Cabbage

Wild cabbage or sea cabbage are the common names of Brassica oleracea. They sound best to me put together – wild sea cabbage – and from my experience so far I think I’ll award Brassica oleracea another adjective – wonderful wild sea cabbage!

The reason I’m keen on it is because last spring I sowed some wild cabbage seed and prepared myself, despite reading a couple of good reports, for the possibility that with it being an uncultivated plant I might get weedy bitter-tasting specimens. But the seeds grew into the five large stocky plants in the photos here and they have a lovely taste!

In case any readers of this blog are beginning to think, “Ah yes, but you’ll eat anything green!”, please take a look at the Really Wild Vegetable project run by The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh this year in partnership with four Scottish community gardens. The project has involved growing sea radish, sea beet and wild cabbage in order to compare them with their domesticated counterparts, both heritage and F1 hybrid varieties.

One comparison they made was of taste. In a blind trial 51% of 211 tasters of wild cabbage, a heritage cabbage variety and a modern F1 cabbage variety chose the wild cabbage as their favourite! (To be fair though I didn’t find quite the same endorsement for my liking for sea beet there!)

There’s more lovely science in the Really Wild Vegetable project because the growers are also comparing the plants in terms of productivity and susceptibility to pests and diseases and passing samples onto a laboratory for a nutritional analysis. Not all the results are in yet but wild cabbage has come out rather well for pest and disease resistance too!

Brassica oleracea is also wonderful because it is believed to have given rise to such a wide range of cultivated crops including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and many more brassicas. Other species may be involved – the genetics of Brassica seem to be hugely complex – but at least part of this wide variation in its cultivated descendants is attributable to the innate variability of Brassica oleracea.

This variability is apparent in the photos. The plants were selected from a small number of seedlings grown from seed supplied by “Elfskins Edibles” on Ebay (recommended). At the seedling stage they looked very similar but as you can see the adult plants are very diverse in both leaf form and colour and midrib colour.

I’m wondering if the variability will extend to how long they will live and when they will flower? Wild cabbage is usually described as a short-lived perennial. Although this is usually explained as meaning a lifespan of 3-5 years there often follows a note indicating that older specimens have been found. Some reports even give a lifespan of up to 20 years whilst others list the species as biennial/perennial.

Well, given such variability in available information, all I can do is wait and see what my plants do!

(Wild cabbage update 1 here).

5 comments on “Wonderful Wild Sea Cabbage”

    What did the seeds of these plants look like? Were they relatively large, brown, and corky, or were they small, round, and black? I thought that sea cabbage was synonymous with sea kale (Crambe maritima). Your photos don't look quite like sea kale though – more like a mix of different kale varieties. Whatever it is, it looks happy.

    Reply

    Hi. No, this is a different plant. I grow sea kale Crambe maritima as well, with corky seeds as you describe, but the seeds of wild cabbage Brassica oleracea look like typical brassica seeds. Crambe maritima is sometimes called sea cabbage and Brassica oleracea is very like cultivated kale. Also crosses between the cultivated brassicas are known for giving results which look similar to their wild relative and indeed wild populations can cross easily with cultivars. In case you are interested an early reference to this can be found in this paper: Gates, R. Ruggles, 1953: Wild cabbages and the effects of cultivation. Jour Genetics: 363-372.

    Reply

    Thanks for the info – I may have to try some of these seeds!

    Reply

    Delicious – really enjoyed this one. What's next?

    Reply

    Possibly bulbs you'd never have thought you'd eat!

    Reply

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