Cole crops (Brassica oleracea)

BRASSICACEAE, Mustard Family

A classic example of diversity within a single species is provided by Brassica oleracea. The wild plant, B. oleracea var. oleracea, called colewort or field cabbage, grows along the dry Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Europe. This plant has a group of basal leaves (a basal "rosette") and an open stalk (panicle) of flowers. From this humble beginning, humans selected for forms with special characteristics. At least 2500 years ago, and maybe 4000 years ago, certain forms of this species were chosen for cultivation. For example, there is evidence of this plant at the Neolithic lake dwellings at Robenhausen, and the ancient Romans favored broccoli. Plants were selected for the following features:

  1. loss of the strong, pungent flavors produced by the irritant mustard oils (sulfur-containing glucosinolates)
  2. enlargement of certain parts for eating
  3. loss of toughness
  4. growth in cool climates with long, cool growing seasons

General types.

All "cole crops" are rich in vitamin A and C, fair to good B vitamins and minerals. These crops are grown during the summer in temperate latitudes and as cool weather crops in California and Arizona. Sauerkraut was invented because cabbage could not be stored for long periods. Cabbage is cut up and layered with salt (no air). Fermentation by Lactobacillus causes sugar (glucose) to be converted into lactic acid.

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