• Paula Ogilvie

Meet the Nutrient Dense Brassicas

By Paula Ogilvie:


Kohlrabi

The “brassicas” – broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, and kohlrabi - are closely related members of the mustard family. Also known as the “cole” crops (from the Latin “caulis” meaning stem or stalk), they are all just different species or cultivars of cabbage, Brassica oleracea. Breeding has developed slight differences for each species.


Slice a cabbage vertically and what you see is a short thick stem at the base surrounded by tightly packed leaves. Kale and collard plants have their leaves loosely arranged along their stems. Brussels sprouts are tiny cabbages growing along a tall, thick stem. Each “sprout” is actually a leaf bud.


An older, still common name for the cole group is the “crucifers” (or Crucifereae), which refers to their small, cross-shaped flowers.


With exception of collards, which grow well in the heat of Southern climates, brassicas are cool season crops that grow best when planted in early spring or in late summer for a fall crop as long as they have enough time to mature before a hard freeze arrives. Broccoli and cabbage especially don’t like to bake in summer heat and sun so afternoon shade protection is beneficial. All like our cool nights and intense UV light. The brassicas are good crops for mountain gardens.


Considered some of the healthiest vegetables, they are delicious if prepared correctly. I never liked them growing up because they were usually boiled and over-cooked. It’s no wonder kids of all ages avoided them. But today trendy restaurants offer tasty, roasted Brussel sprouts that are very popular. Sautéing or quickly roasting generally brings out the best flavors. Steaming or boiling can result in over-cooked, soggy vegetables with much of the nutritional benefit lost, so cook for just a few minutes and keep a close eye on them. Broccoli tastes best when it retains its bright green color.


Cole crops are rich in sulfur-containing compounds that impart the distinct flavor and odors that some people may not appreciate. (Remember when President H.W. Bush banned broccoli from Air Force One?) The sulfur compounds break down into smaller units that appear to play a role in cancer prevention. Coles are rich in vitamins C, K, B2, B6, manganese, potassium, copper, dietary fiber, and even protein. They contain chemicals called phenols and flavonoids which have known antioxidant properties and have been shown to reduce cardiovascular diseases. Antioxidants also play a role in reducing chronic inflammation which may be a risk factor for developing cancer. These veggies also appear to be beneficial for those with Type 2 diabetes, (though this may be due to the overall life-style of people who eat healthy foods).


The red and purple colors associated with “super-berries” are known as anthocyanins. Also found in the red-purple varieties of red cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, anthocyanins are important for cardiovascular protection, eye health, and may also reduce inflammation.

Whether large or small, be sure to include some tasty, nutritious brassicas in your cabbage patch. Read seed packet descriptions to learn days to maturity and preferred growing conditions for the many different varieties now available.


Whether large or small, be sure to include some tasty, nutritious brassicas in your cabbage patch. Read seed packet descriptions to learn days to maturity and preferred growing conditions for the many different varieties now available.



Paula Ogilvie teaches biology and botany at Community College of Denver.