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Herb of the week: Cabbage.

Photo: Brassica oleracea capi 2. A short-short profile:

Latin: Brassica oleracea var. capitata .
Family: mustard and cabbage family, Brassicaceae.
Parts used: Head.
Taste: hey ... it's cabbage.
4 humors: raw: warm, dry. Boiled: warm, moist.


  • A great and all too often overlooked anti-inflammatory.
  • Nice to dry up milk, if needed.
  • Sauerkraut, a great source of gut-friendly bacteria.


  • You can use the leaf of any head cabbage externally.
  • Larger cabbage leaves work as hats, too, when it's raining :-)
  • You could even use kale, but the leaf form isn't optimal for things like knees and breasts.
  • Any cabbage will do for raw juicing.


  • For sprains, aches, swellings and watery knees (etc.), grab a leaf of the right size and put it on. Keep it in place for 30-60 minutes, then remove.
  • One lady kept a leaf on overnight ... blisters ensued. It's possible that this was a one-off reaction, but be careful: if your skin is redder than normal after the "usual" half an hour to an hour application, don't leave the leaf on for longer.
  • (One lady's achy swollen watery knee stopped her from walking in the woods, which she loved. One application of cabbage leaf and the swelling (and water) was gone, for a day or three. Gotta love cabbage.)
  • Great for inflamed breasts. Don't keep it on for longer than about half an hour, though: cabbage leaf is ALSO great for drying up milk, if used externally. (As a bonus, cabbage leaf comes in ALL cup sizes!)
  • Give raw cabbage juice a shot for ulcers.
  • Try raw cabbage juice if you have IBS, too, but watch out for complications. If it fits you, you'll feel vastly better. If it doesn't, you'll have the bubblies and the bloaties. (Caraway works nicely for cabbagy bloat and gas.)
  • Sauerkraut hands you various lactobacilli on a plate. As it were.

Comments on Facebook:

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Comments on the herblist:

  • From Jane MacR.:
    Date: 30 Sep 2012 12:38:18 +1000

    I always understood cabbage for breast engorgement and yes the leaves fit the curves nicely, likewise for the head for headaches. I must try it on my knees!

  • From Deb Phillips, midwife:
    Date: 29 Sep 2012 15:33:10 -0400

    Aviva Romm has a report on a study on cabbage in her Women's health book. The study shows that cabbage is no better for reducing engorgement than cold compresses. Makes one think that there is not the active ingredients in it then. Do we know what is in cabbage that works?

  • From Sharon H-R, midwife:
    Date: 29 Sep 2012 13:07:17 -0700

    So do you think it is true? The thing is that cabbage leaves fit around breasts better and are more often used than the cold compresses. So that alone would win me. If we use the big outer leaves and use a bottle or rolling pin on them , I think straight from the fridge, may be the same as a cold compress, but left in the bra till warm it still works, so you get something that can be used longer without having to change out as often.

    Here is a link to a full text article, they did something different compared it to hot/cold alternating compresses and they put the cabbage leaves in the freezer for a short while then took them out in 1/2 hr... So basically a cold treatment alone.. they have a list of studies to back up trying this test in the first place including using cabbage leaf,extract...
    A Comparison of Cabbage Leaves vs. Hot and Cold Compresses in the Treatment of Breast Engorgement, Smriti Arora, Manju Vatsa, and Vatsla Dadhwal. Indian J Community Med. 2008 Jul; 33(3): 160–162.
    Conclusion: Cold cabbage leaves as well as alternate hot and cold compresses both can be used in the treatment of breast engorgement. Hot and cold compresses are more effective in decreasing pain than cold cabbage leaves in relieving pan due to breast engorgement.

  • From Deb Phillips, midwife:
    Date: 29 Sep 2012 16:17:07 -0400

    I still recommend cabbage leaves. I was just so disappointed that there was not an herbal constituent in them that was helping with the engorgement. It is just the coolness. I do recommend rolling with a rolling pin first.

  • From Sharon H-R, midwife:
    Date: 29 Sep 2012 14:33:00 -0700

    But actually i do think that there is something more to them than just the cold... Because they work longer than just when they are cold, i think if they are left on till warm that mustard stuff is released... Raw cabbage juice can heal up ulcers so it could be that or it culd just be the type of micro flora it promotes... Cabbage+ salt and you will get lactic acid bacteria... That is why I sent the newer article, in includes a study using cabbage extract in the bibliography... I wount want to use cabbage extract as the leaves are so perfect for our purposes.. But it does show activity... The only thing that they are saying is that it seems to work equally good... And who knows maybe the intention and attention of the cold pack or hot-cold has an added effect where as the cabbage leaves being sort of a put on and ignore thing is a different care level.

  • From Sharon H-R, midwife:
    Date: 29 Sep 2012 14:52:36 -0700

    So here are some other abstracts the last one is important because warm or cold cabbage works... So not just a cuppy way to deliver cold... And the over arching thing women liked the cabbage leaves.

    Birth. 1993 Jun;20(2):61-4.
    Do cabbage leaves prevent breast engorgement? A randomized, controlled study.
    Nikodem VC, Danziger D, Gebka N, Gulmezoglu AM, Hofmeyr GJ.
    Abstract: A randomized, controlled trial was conducted to evaluate the effect of cabbage leaves on mothers' perceptions of breast engorgement and the influence of this treatment on breastfeeding practices. The subjects, 120 breastfeeding women 72 hours postpartum, were randomly allocated to an experimental group who received application of cabbage leaves to their breasts, or to a control group who received routine care. The experimental group tended to report less breast engorgement, but this trend was not statistically significant. At six weeks, women who received the cabbage leaf application were more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively, 76 and 58 percent (35/46 vs 29/50; P = 0.09), and their mean duration of exclusive breastfeeding was longer (36 vs 30 days; P = 0.04). The greater breastfeeding success in the experimental group may have been due to some beneficial effect of cabbage leaf application, or may have been secondary to reassurance and improved confidence and self-esteem in these mothers.

    J Hum Lact. 1995 Mar;11(1):17-20.
    A comparison of chilled cabbage leaves and chilled gelpaks in reducing breast engorgement.
    Roberts KL.
    Abstract: This study compared the effectiveness of chilled green cabbage leaves and chilled gelpaks in reducing breast engorgement in postpartum mothers. Thirty-four lactating women with breast engorgement used chilled cabbage leaves on one breast and chilled gelpaks on the other for up to eight hours. Their pain levels were established pre-treatment and compared post-treatment for both conditions. There was no difference in the post-treatment ratings for the two treatments. Mothers reported a statistically significant drop in pain with both treatments; 68 percent obtained relief within one to two hours. The majority of mothers preferred the cabbage leaves.

    J Hum Lact. 1995 Sep;11(3):191-4.
    A comparison of chilled and room temperature cabbage leaves in treating breast engorgement.
    Roberts KL, Reiter M, Schuster D.
    Abstract: This study compared the effectiveness of chilled and room temperature green cabbage leaves in reducing the discomfort of breast engorgement in postpartum mothers. Twenty-eight lactating women with breast engorgement used chilled cabbage leaves on one breast and room-temperature cabbage leaves on the other for a two-hour period. Pre-treatment pain levels were compared with post-treatment levels for both conditions. There was no difference in the post-treatment ratings for the two treatments; mothers reported significantly less pain with both treatments. We concluded that it is not necessary to chill cabbage leaves before use.

It's in my book "Practical Herbs 2.

Please add your own experiences etc. in the comments.