Most people are familiar with the taste and health benefits of cabbage, but did you know that leafy vegetables come in different varieties and that not all of them are safe to eat?
Some plants that look like cabbage might even be poisonous to animals or humans if eaten.
If you love cabbage but are worried about making this mistake, read on to learn about five plants that look like cabbage so you can tell them apart from the real thing.
Know Your Cabbages
Some vegetables may resemble cabbage, but you can tell them apart by their leaves. Keep in mind that leaves can change shape and look during different parts of a plant’s growing cycle: here are five plants you might mistake for cabbage at first glance.
5 Plants That Look Like Cabbage
1) Celery Cabbage (Pisum sativum)
Celery cabbage is closely related to wild cabbage. It is a perennial herb native to Europe and parts of Asia, but it can be grown as an annual in colder regions. Celery cabbage produces small clusters of narrow white flowers with pink centers and pale green leaves.
The leaves of celery cabbage taste like celery stalks; they are somewhat bland when eaten raw, but they are slightly sweet and crisp when cooked. During Medieval times, witches were believed to eat celery cabbage to make themselves fly on broomsticks.
While eating celery cabbage will not give you magical powers, it may provide some protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
How to grow?
Celery cabbage is a perennial herb that can be grown as an annual in colder regions. Seeds should be planted indoors eight weeks before your last frost date.
Once they have germinated, seedlings should be transplanted outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. Celery cabbage prefers full sun and well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 7. 5.
It grows best when temperatures are between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55 to 60 degrees at night. Water regularly, but do not overwater; celery cabbage will rot if left sitting in waterlogged soil.
Pinch off flower buds as soon as you see them appear so that plants will put more energy into producing leaves rather than flowers.
2) Lettuce Cabbage (Valerianella locusta)
Although it’s hard to miss with its large, thick-stemmed leaves and strong cabbage scent, lettuce cabbage can be easy to mistake for lettuce. The big giveaway?
Look closely at those stems. Not only do they look a lot like green cabbage stalks, but they also have a distinct aroma of their own (sometimes reminiscent of gasoline). It grows wild in abundance throughout most of Europe and is naturalized in North America.
It’s a member of the valerian family and related to garden carrots, parsnips, celery, caraway, and dill. Keep that odor in mind if you decide to add some to your slaw mix. It tastes great in salads when young, but get ready for a bitter taste as it ages. Lettuce cabbages are not edible raw; they must be cooked or fermented first before eating.
In fact, in Eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania, sauerkraut is made from chopped-up pieces of lettuce cabbage that are then cured by being left outside during cold weather to ferment naturally.
These fermented vegetables were once one of mankind’s best sources of vitamin C until we started adding lemon juice to our food before serving. Sauerkraut still contains vitamin C-just not enough to prevent scurvy unless eaten regularly.
How to grow?
Lettuce cabbages are easy to grow. They thrive in full sun and can be grown from seed or purchased as transplants. Sow seeds directly into your garden, just as you would with lettuce. Transplants can be started indoors in early spring and then transplanted outside once all danger of frost has passed.
Lettuce cabbages like cool weather, so wait until temperatures warm up before planting them outdoors if you live in a warmer climate. They’ll need plenty of water while growing but will bolt (send up a flower stalk) when it gets too hot, so keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t dry out too much during hot spells.
Once mature, lettuce cabbages should produce flowers that turn into tiny pods filled with seeds. Harvest these pods before they split open and scatter their seeds around your garden.
Once harvested, let them dry in a dark place for about two weeks; once dried, store them in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use.
If left alone long enough, these plants will eventually die back naturally; however, most gardeners prefer to pull them out by hand after harvesting any leaves that might still be attached.
While cabbage and cauliflower belong to different plant families, they do look strikingly similar. Unlike true cabbage, though, cauliflower comes from flowers-it’s made up of clusters of unopened buds that form tightly together to resemble a flower.
Just like cabbage, cauliflower is also full of vitamin C and fiber. However, it contains fewer calories than even green cabbage. One cup of raw chopped cauliflower contains only about 33 calories.
Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin K as well as a host of other vitamins and minerals including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Cauliflower can be eaten raw or cooked; you can use it in stir-fries or add some flower power to your favorite recipes by using cauliflower instead of traditional rice or potatoes.
How to grow?
Sow cauliflower seeds indoors in late winter or early spring. The plants will germinate within a week and should be ready to transplant into your garden after several weeks.
Sow a few seeds every few inches, as they will not all sprout at once. Once they have grown their first set of leaves, thin them out so that only one plant remains per inch of row.
4) Ornamental kale
This look-alike is kale (Brassica oleracea) that has been bred to form a decorative head. It’s available in both green and purple varieties, so it’ll fit into your color scheme no matter what your garden looks like.
When cooked, it has a mild cabbage flavor. The plants grow 6 to 10 inches tall and make good additions to fall gardens because they look good throughout most of the fall.
Ornamental kales are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 11. They should be planted in spring or early summer when temperatures warm up.
How to grow?
Ornamental kale is easy to grow. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil but will tolerate some shade. Sow seeds directly in your garden after the danger of frost has passed, or start them indoors six weeks before your last frost date.
Space plants 8 inches apart and water regularly until they’re established. They’re not fussy about soil pH but do best in fertile, moist soil that’s rich in organic matter.
In fall, cut back on watering and allow plants to go dormant over winter. In spring, remove dead leaves as needed and fertilize with a balanced fertilizer once or twice during active growth periods.
5) Ornamental Cabbages
Despite their name, ornamental cabbages are not a variety of cabbage at all. These brilliant and colorful plants are herbs that are used to flavor dishes. They come in many colors including pink, purple, red, and white; though they’re most often used in Chinese cooking.
If you want a taste of something different while still enjoying beautiful flowers or colorful foliage in your garden, then consider growing an ornamental cabbage as part of your home landscaping plan.
How to Grow?
Ornamental cabbages are fairly easy to grow and maintain. They’re best grown in a sunny location with well-drained soil. To help ensure that your plants have enough space, it’s a good idea to give them plenty of room when you plant them.
While ornamental cabbages are often planted during late summer or early fall, they can also be started indoors and transplanted outside after all danger of frost has passed.
If you want to harvest your ornamental cabbage before it flowers, then simply cut off leaves as needed when they reach a length of 6 inches or more.
If you prefer to let your plant flower and produce seeds, then remove dead leaves as needed while allowing new ones to continue growing until the plant reaches full maturity.