Wild Cabbage

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
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Velvet Shanks. Sussex, January 2016.

Velvet Shanks. Sussex, January 2016.

Midwinter is a lean time for foraging. We’re just heading into what is statistically the coldest month of the year, and properly cold temperatures have finally arrived in the UK. The only fungi you’re likely to find are Jew’s Ears and Velvet Shanks, and you’ll need a good dose of luck to come across those. Although I was rather pleased to find this lot, which were sneakily hidden inside a dead log, making them rather hard to spot but worth finding from a photographic point of view, because the very fact that they are growing in a restricted space,

Enokitake - the cultivated version of Velvet Shanks.

Enokitake – the cultivated version of Velvet Shanks.

with restricted light, has meant they more closely resemble their cultivated descendents Enokitake

than Velvet Shanks normally do. The Japanese force this species to grow into this strange, spaghetti-like form by growing them in the dark, in canisters, with an elevated level of carbon dioxide.

In terms of plant foraging, the most advanced Alexanders plants are just reaching their best for harvesting and using the succulent stems, although most of them are still much too small and won’t be ready for a few more weeks. Alexanders is a coastal specialist, and where it is present it is usually present in invasive quantities.

Wild Cabbage. Sussex, January 2016.

Wild Cabbage. Sussex, January 2016.

The same cannot be said for Wild Cabbage. Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea), is the wild ancestor not only of cultivated cabbages but also broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. It is native to coastal areas of western and southern Europe, but it doesn’t compete well with other plants and therefore tends to be restricted, naturally, to its most preferable habit, which is chalk sea cliffs. It is not particularly common.

However, it does also sometime thrive in disturbed ground near the coast, and not exclusively in chalk/limestone areas. Right now there’s loads of it growing in otherwise barren mud, all along the sides of the new Hastings-Bexhill link road. This is acidic, sandy soil, about a mile inland from the sea. It’s likely to be brief, localised hey-day for the Wild Cabbage. Come the spring this mud will doubtless become a sea of early-colonising “weeds”, hopefully (from a foraging point of view) including loads of juicy Fat-Hen.

Wild Cabbage leaves.

Wild Cabbage leaves.

For now I will enjoy this rare glut of Wild Cabbage. It is actually much tastier than any of its cultivated forms – the same taste, just stronger. The stems can be stringy, so you need to strip the leafy parts of the leaves before steaming for a few minutes and serving with melted butter.


6 thoughts on “Wild Cabbage

  1. Charlotte

    How funny – I was searching for information on wild cabbage having spotted some behind the bathing huts in St Leonards, and here you are mentioning that exact space! Fingers crossed it lasts…

  2. Ben C

    I found Wild Cabbage growing in Seine Maritime in Normandy last week. This is an area with chalky coastal cliffs. I foraged some and found it very tasty. I have collected some seeds and I am going to try growing it in my garden. I am hoping it will be more resistant to caterpillars than cultivated Brassicas. The fact that it can be perennial also appeals to me.

    1. Geoff Dann Post author

      Hi Ben

      I have no idea whether wild cabbage will be less vulnerable to the cabbage whites. I see the butterflies around wild brassicas all the time, but it is possible they’ll choose cultivated varieties over wild ones when a choice is available. Please do give us an update when you have more information!



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