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by Daphne Lambert

In celebration of cabbage – a winter staple


Cabbages have been an integral part of our food culture for over 2,000 years.  Coleworts, the wild form of cabbage, were first used as food in prehistoric times. The ancient Greeks cultivated the wild cabbage and developed several varieties as did the Romans who probably introduced them to Britain. Early cabbage was a more loose leaf variety. The full bodied head was developed during the middle ages. Cabbage became a reliable staple food, especially for the poor, who relied on it stored whole, pickled or dried  during the lean winter months. Many countries have incorporated cabbage into their cuisine. The Japanese include cabbage in their pickled vegetables tsukemono and the Koreans make kimchi a spiced pickled cabbage. In Russia it is used to make borscht and the Irish combine cabbage and potato to make colcannon. In Germany it was traditionally fermented to make sauerkraut and it is an important part of Polish cooking.  Collards (non heading cabbage) were one of the vegetables used in 'soul food' the cuisine developed by the African slaves in the American south.


Greeks and Romans placed great faith in the healing powers of cabbage. They believed the plant could cure just about any illness.  In the Middle Ages crushed leaves and clay were applied to the body to ease the pain of rheumatism. In 1769 Captain Cook demonstrated the medicinal value of sauerkraut. The vitamin C content of the sauerkraut he fed his men protected them from scurvy.


Cabbages have many healing properties. Like all vegetables from the brassicae genus; kale, Brussels sprouts, turnip and cauliflower, cabbages contain sulfur compounds which are linked with protection against cancer as they bind carcinogens and help in detoxification. Cabbage contains S -Methylmethionine which is closely associated with beneficial effects on the digestive tract. The remedy of a freshly made cabbage juice twice a day between meals has long been used for ulcers.

Cabbage contains iodine and is a rich source of vitamin C and calcium.  Sauerkraut, naturally fermented cabbage, is one of the most beneficial ways to eat cabbage the fermentation process enhances anti-oxidant activity and increases vitamin C content. Sauerkraut enhances intestinal health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria which amongst a myriad of other benefits improves nutrient absorption.

Cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage contain goitrogens which inhibit the formation of thyroid hormones. This is not a problem in healthy people but may pose a problem for people who have a thyroid condition or those taking thyroid medication.


Red cabbage, in season at the moment, is particularly beneficial as it contains significantly more protective anti oxidants than white cabbage.


Red cabbage, apple & juniper kraut

1k red cabbage
2 x Granny Smith apples (or similar)
20g salt
tablespoon juniper berries roughly ground in pestle & mortar

Very finely shred the red cabbage and place in a bowl.

Add the salt & massage the mixture until you have plenty of liquid.

Core the apples, finely chop & add to the cabbage with the juniper berries.

Pack into a wide mouthed jar pushing down well. Ensure the vegetables are covered with liquid adding a little water if necessary.

Weigh down to keep the vegetables submerged, cover with a cloth.

Ferment in a warm place away from sunlight for 1 – 2 weeks.  Check regularly to ensure the mixture stays submerged.

When it tastes to your liking, loosely fasten lid & store in a cool dry place. Unopened will last for at least 6 months.

Potato colcannon gratin

1 kilo Maris Piper or similar floury potato

small head of cabbage

4 shallots chopped finely

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

salt & pepper

200ml milk

extra olive oil


Scrub potatoes and boil until tender.  Chop the cabbage and steam until tender.  Cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes, add cabbage and remove from heat.

Mash the potatoes either with the skin or you can remove it if you prefer.  Heat milk and butter and beat into mash with the cabbage mixture, season well.  Pile into oven proof dish, sprinkle oil over the top and bake 15 mins.

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