Not long ago, cabbage was seen as an almost worthless food, fit for consumption only by the poor. That wasn’t always the case, though. Once, this leafy vegetable was held in the highest esteem.
In fact, Ancient Greeks and Romans attributed almost magical healing powers to the cabbage, and believed it could cure just about any illness. None other than Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine” from whom we got the “Hippocratic Oath,” swore by the merits of cabbage, and often prescribed the plant, boiled with salt, as a remedy for various afflictions.
Greek mathematician Pythagoras, best known as the father of the “Pythagorean Theorem” in geometry, composed entire books about the virtues of cabbage. An old anecdote relates that the philosopher Diogenes ate cabbage every day on the recommendation of Pythagoras, while Aristippus, another Greek philosopher, refused to allow cabbage in his kitchen. Diogenes lived to the ripe old age of 90, while Aristippus died when he was only 40. Coincidence? Maybe …
If so, though, the ancient Romans weren’t taking any chances. They used cabbage, both internally and externally, to treat various illnesses. Roman soldiers even applied cabbage leaves to their wounds.
Around that same time, the Egyptian pharaohs customarily ate large quantities of cabbage before a night of heavy drinking. They believed it would allow them to drink alcohol without feeling the effects. Perhaps this is why, to this day, many consider cabbage with vinegar a good hangover remedy.
Closer to our own times, British explorer Captain James Cook — best known for making the first European contact with Newfoundland, Hawaii, and Eastern Australia — swore by the medicinal value of sauerkraut (cabbage pickled in brine). In 1769, his ship doctor used it for compresses on soldiers who were wounded during a severe storm, a move that has been credited with preventing gangrene.
The Healing Powers of Sauerkraut
Eating cabbage in fermented form (sauerkraut or kimchi) gives you a boost of probiotics, one of the best things for a healthy digestive system and gut. In fact, a 2014 study found that a 2 ounce serving of home-fermented sauerkraut contained more probiotics than a bottle of 100 count probiotic capsules. At the 2013 Gluten Summit, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD noted, “with every mouthful of sauerkraut you’re consuming billions of beneficial microbes which will be killing the pathogens in your gut driving them out and replenishing the beneficial flora in your digestive tract.”
The best part is you can easily make a batch at home. Try this recipe — it doesn’t get much simpler!
5 pounds cabbage
3 tablespoons sea salt
Chop or grate the cabbage, and place it in a large bowl, sprinkling salt on it as you go. When all cabbage is shredded, pack it tightly into a large ceramic crock or food grade plastic bucket. Cover the cabbage with a plate, or another flat-bottomed item that fits snugly inside the crock, and place a gallon jug filled with water on top. The weight will begin to press moisture out of the cabbage, which will mix with the salt to create a brine solution. Press down on the weight, to help force out additional moisture, and cover the crock with a clean towel.
After about one day, the brine should be level with, or higher than the plate. If it isn’t, add enough salty water to cover the cabbage (one teaspoon of salt to a few cups of water). Leave the crock to ferment in a cool, dark place. Check the kraut once every couple of days. Skim away any mold that appears on the surface (don’t worry, this is normal and won’t affect your kraut, which is safe below the surface). Taste test after a few days. When the kraut is to your liking, you can either place it in a sealed container and refrigerate, or leave it in the crock to continue fermenting. If stored in a dark, cool place, fermenting sauerkraut can keep for a couple for months.