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Get A Load of This Genus!

3 min read

Kale, Cabbage at the farmers market

Breaking down the Brassica Family

Grab your Gas X. Just kidding - it’s not that kind of break-down. 

“Eat your vegetables!” A common (and occasionally inflammatory) expression spoken at many a dinner table. Typically, it involves a bit of bartering depending on the age of the dinner guest. Calling them ‘little trees,’ adding some ranch dressing or melted cheese, and taking whatever means necessary to encourage consumption of these plated powerhouses - sound familiar? As a kid, it often felt this so-called ‘advice’ was used as a cruel means of delaying some sweet, syrupy dessert. But it turns out my parents DID know what they were talking about -vegetables ARE good for you and none more so than members of the Brassica Genus.

And just what falls into this category?

It’s quite the extended family- (so big, you’ll need the extra table leaves for Thanksgiving Dinner): cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccolini, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips, mustard greens, horseradish, watercress and radishes - to name but a few. The Brassica Genus includes over thirty species in the mustard family. The veggies we’ve grown to love (or at least appreciate) are all part of the same original plant:

Brussel Sprout Stalks

 

Glucosinolates

Cruciferous crusaders, this super species is loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals known as GLUCOSINOLATES; cancer fighting compounds specific to the Brassica Genus.                                                                                                                                    

“When you eat cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, the glucosinolates contained in them are broken down into compounds called metabolites. Metabolites are the naturally occurring substances that affect the pace of metabolism and trigger specific enzymatic reactions to help protect your cells from damage - including the damage that leads to cancer,” 

  • Shereen Lehman, MS from her article: Health Benefits of Glucosinolates on VeryWellFit

Glucosinolates are credited with reducing your risk of cancer significantly and improving your cardiovascular health. They’re also the reason your greens taste so bitter. As if cancer fighting properties weren’t enough, these garden all-stars are also stocked with Vitamins A, C, K, Folate, Fiber, Biotin, Iron, Magnesium, Carotenoids and Calcium. 

 

 

Cole Crops

Often referred to as Cole Crops, these vegetables fare better in cooler weather. Despite how it sounds, the word ‘cole’ is actually derived from the Latin root ‘caulis’ meaning ‘stem.’ Each variety will vary in its specific needs but it’s safe to consider them mostly spring and fall crops - book enders to your gardening season. Cole crops love full sun, well-draining soil, and lots of organic matter to feed on. Be mindful of the temperatures though - they will bolt, blister or otherwise fail if things get too toasty and they don’t get adequate water. Row covers  will help protect them from cabbage worms and so will companion planting! Try Marigolds or Nasturtiums to deter all of those hungry bugs. 

 

 

Shredded Purple Cabbage

When it comes time for harvesting, remember to get a mix of raw and cooked cruciferous vegetables onto your dinner plate: add purple cabbage to your Taco Tuesday, sauté your kale with a bit of fresh garlic, mix julienned kohlrabi in with your coleslaw and why not try a zesty dip to liven up your cauliflower florets? 

  

   

  

Did you know Brussels sprouts have been bred to weed out the bitterness over the past few decades? Scientists spent years cross-pollinating milder varieties with high yielders to produce the Brussels we love today. Feel free to pull the ‘back in my day’ card when your human sprouts complain about the flavor.

One could also argue, their newfound palatability has a lot to do with the more inventive veggie recipes of modern cooking (bye-bye boiled Brussels).


Love ‘em, like ‘em, or leave ‘em as ornamentals, the Brassica Genus is hard to outshine. They are, perhaps, the most respected vegetable group in the world of gardening.

The health benefits alone are enough to add them back into my daily diet. I eat my veggies now - far less begrudgingly (and occasionally that dessert too.)

My niece and nephew can’t get enough of some simple roasted broccoli with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon - it’s like we’re not even related.

 

 

 

Sources: From Stud to Dud - NPR     Brassicas -Britannica   Etymology of 'Cole' - Merriam Webster

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