The Brassica family of plants is one of the most prolific genera of vegetables in the world, enjoyed by countless generations in many forms and playing a starring role in many culturally significant recipes. Brassica vegetables, including bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, rutabagas and turnips are popular around the world today and have been a major food source for as long as anyone can remember. The Chinese philosopher Confucius, before dying in 479 B.C. wrote over 300 traditional songs describing life in the Chou dynasty. Many of the songs were agriculturally themed and named over 40 foods of the time, including cabbage! Perhaps current songwriters should devote more lyrics to healthy eating and the joys of agriculture!
Also known as cole crops, derived from the Latin word caulis, denoting the stem or stalk of a plant, brassica provide plenty of nutrition (vitamin C and soluble fiber) and healthy doses of glucosinolates, a compound that helps reduce the risk of various cancers of the digestive tract. In addition, red Brassicas provide mega-doses of Anthocyanin (a powerful anti-oxidant) at bargain prices. Some glucosinolates have a bitter flavor that makes them unpalatable to some people. Modern breeding has replaced some of the bitter glucosinolates with neutral-flavored ones so that all palates can enjoy Brassicas.
Most members of our garden Brassicas are all members of the same species: Brassica oleracea. Simple and natural mutations lead to the development of large leaves in kale and collards, while other mutations lead to the development of heads in cabbage, arrested flower development in broccoli and cauliflower, or prolific development of axillary buds in Brussels sprouts. Other members of the Brassica family include Chinese cabbage, radish (root), and kohlrabi (swollen stem).
In many areas brassica crops are best planted in the early spring or fall. Many can endure or embrace a light frost so consider them extenders of your gardening year. Overall, brassicas are easy to grow, just follow the directions that come with the seed or plants that you purchase and enjoy them in your garden.