White Headed Cabbage in the Head Formation Phase
The White Headed Cabbage in the Head Formation Phase

Headed Cabbage - Origin & Distribution

By the following article, a series of totally unnecessary articles are being launched, dedicated this time to Headed Cabbage.

Its humble overestimated origin and the impudence distribution will concern us here, without being misled by the pompous name of Brassica oleracea var. capitata.

It will be followed by the unfavorable classification, its suspect typology, its so-called nutritional value and, of course, all the necessary information about the irrational cultivation of this plant, which among others include:

  • The selection of the proper location of the field from a soil-climatic point of view
  • The propagation of cabbage
  • The sowing and planting
  • The irrigation and fertilization
  • The plant protection
  • The harvesting and storing of the plant

In other words, it is in the middle of the summer and the unbearable heat has no effect on us.

Among the most interesting for cultivation and nutrition groups of Cabbages is the one with the Red Headed Cabbages.

Red Headed Cabbage (Brassica Oleracea Var. Capitata F. Rubra)
Brassica Oleracea Var. Capitata F. Rubra. Red Cabbage in the Field at the Time of Harvest
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Headed Cabbage Origin

Headed Cabbage - Map of Cabbage Origin
Brassica oleracea var. capitata (Headed Cabbage) - Map of Origin

Origin & Etymology of the Headed Cabbage Name Brassica oleracea var. capitata

Etymology of the Genus Name

The etymology of the name of the Brassica genus is more or less uncertain.

Some scholars have suggested as a source the Celtic word for Cabbage bresic or bresych, which is a contraction of praesecare, that means cut off early – possibly due to the early autumn leaf harvest of the plant.

Others stand for the word brassica, which refers to one of the works of the Roman comedian Titus Maccius Plautus (254 – 184 BCE), which literally means to cut off the head.

The distinguished Dutch botanist Herman Boerhaave (1668 – 1738), from the not so far 1727, proposes the Ancient Greek word αποτουβράξει-υ, which in Latin becomes vorare and means to devour.

At the present time, the humble (ha-ha!) contribution of the editorial team of ‘Kalliergeia’ to the issue, is that it does not seem at all improbable that the name Brassica comes from the Ancient Greek word  βράσσω.

The word βράσσω (or βράττω in the Attic dialect) means ζέω, that is, to boil, to bubble, and to consume Cabbages (Λάχανα), ie leafy vegetables in general, since this was the meaning of the word (while the Curly Cabbage cultivated by the Ancient Greeks was called Κράμβη), of course they had to boil.

This seems to have remained in the Celts as a travel souvenir from their descent to Ancient Greece and Asia Minor (as mentioned later in the article), and passed into their vocabulary corrupted as bresic or bresych meaning Cabbage.

Etymology of the Species Name

Far away from doubt – and fortunately – the origin of the species name oleracea leaves no room for misinterpretation because it comes from the Latin word olerāceus, which is the alternative form of the compound word holerāceus (holus = vegetable, greens & -ācius / -āceus = origin), meaning that which comes from Vegetable.

Etymology of the Variety Name

The name of the variety capitata, too, has a clear origin; it comes from the Latin word caput, which in turn comes from the Proto-Italic *kaput, whose distant origin is in the Proto-Indo-European word *káput-, finally meaning the head.

Headed Cabbage – Origin & Distribution

Headed Cabbage - Head of Brassica oleracea var. capitata - © Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org
Head and leaves of Brassica oleracea var. capitata - © Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org

Origin of the Headed Cabbage Plant Brassica oleracea var. capitata

The geographical origin of Brassica oleracea Cabbage is located in the coastal regions of Southeastern Europe, Asia Minor and Middle East.

But for Headed Cabbage, Brassica oleracea var. capitata, its geographical and botanical origin is located between its wild ancestors and in particular – mainly – in the variety Brassica oleraceae var. oleracea.

Brassica oleraceae var. oleracea is native to the coastal regions of Western Europe. Its populations are recorded along the Atlantic coasts of Northern Spain, France, United Kingdom, and at the Helgoland Islands of Germany, while at least one population of the variety was formerly known in Ireland.

Headed Cabbage – Origin & Distribution

Κεφαλωτό Λάχανο - Τομή Κεφαλωτού Λάχανου - © Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org
Intersection Of Headed Cabbage in the Field - © Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org

Beginning & Distribution of the Headed Cabbage Cultivation

Initially, they were the peoples of the European South and the coastal regions of Asia Minor and the Middle East that systematically cultivated the Headed Cabbage. Of course, this Headed Cabbage included those types of the plant that had been fully adapted to the Mediterranean climate, that is to say, some forms of Curly Headed Cabbages.

When and from which the cultivation spread to the rest of Europe, can not be said with precision. Some scholars suggest the Romans, while others attribute this honor to the Celts.

The most likely, however, is their dissemination by the Celts and Scandinavian peoples rather than by the Romans during the Empire.

One of the arguments of supporters of the first view is that Celts, since the 6th century BC, had visited the Mediterranean South, probably for tourist purposes, and at some point in the 3rd century BC they went also a walk to Asia Minor.

Another equally strong argument is that the roots of the names of most botanical varieties of Cabbage are of Celtic origin.

Third in a row, but not necessarily in the order, convincing argument is that Celts were the ones who developed the low-temperature hard-heading, White and Red Cabbage.

Headed Cabbage – Origin & Distribution

Headed Cabbage in Longitudinal Section - © Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
Whole Headed Cabbage in Longitudinal Section - © Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Scripta Trace for Brassica oleracea var. capitata Cultivation

Until the 11th century AD, there is none historical presumption that testifies to the existence and cultivation anywhere in Europe – and certainly in the World – of the White and Red Headed Cabbage.

But in the following century, in the texts of the German – philosopher, theologian, but perhaps even the most important religious leader in the 12th century Europe – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), in which medical, botanical and theological issues are being developed, there is the first clear historical reference, giving evidence of the White and Red Headed Cabbage existence.

Next chronological evidence is provided by Albertus Magnus (or Albert of Cologne, 1193-1280), philosopher, theologian and saint of the Roman Catholic Church. In his book ‘De vegetabilibus et plantis’, written about 1250, there is a reference to Headed Cabbage types that are outlined by the word ‘caputium’ – that means ‘hood’ – but without any description of the plant.

The complete description of the plant is done by the French botanist Ioannes Ruellius (Jean Ruel, 1474 – 1537), in the work of ‘De natura stirpium published in Paris one year before his death.

In this, on page 477, it refers to the words ‘capucos coles’, ‘cabutos’ to Headed Cabbages, giving even the information that the heads are globular and large, with a diameter often reaching 45 cm.

Headed Cabbage – Origin & Distribution

Headed Cabbage - Ruellius - Jean Ruel, the Original Cover of the book 'Veterinariae medicinae'
Ruellius - Jean Ruel, the Original Cover of the book 'Veterinariae medicinae'

The Headed Cabbage Today in the World

Headed Cabbage, which is one of the most important economic crops, is now found in many parts of the world. Larger producer countries are China, India, Russia, Poland and Japan. Russia is the largest consuming country in the world.

World Cabbage Production

The table below shows the global Cabbage production for 2017.

5South Korea2.118.930
10United States of America964.830

Headed Cabbage – Origin & Distribution

The Red Headed Cabbage Brassica Oleracea Var. Capitata F. Rubra
The Red Headed Cabbage Brassica Oleracea Var. Capitata F. Rubra, along with the White, the Curly and the Brussels sprout forms the Headed Cabbage group


The References of the penetrating article titled Headed Cabbage – Origin & Distribution are presented by the American music band Supertramp offering breakfast: Breakfast In America.

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