Kale and Spinach Information and Recipes
Greeks and Romans Grew Kale and Collards
Kale and collards are similar in many respects, differing in little more
than the forms of their leaves. They are, in effect, primitive cabbages
that have been retained through thousands of years.
Although more highly developed forms, such as cauliflower, broccoli,
and head cabbage, have been produced in the last two thousand years or so,
the kales and collards have persisted, although primitive, because of
their merits as garden vegetables.
These leafy nonheading cabbages bear the Latin name Brassica oleracea
variety acephala, the last term meaning "without a head." They have many
names in many languages, as a result of their great antiquity and
Kale is often called "borecole," and in America collards are sometimes
called "sprouts." "Kale" is a Scottish word derived from coles or caulis,
terms used by the Greeks and Romans in referring to the whole cabbagelike
group of plants. The German word Kohl has the same origin.
"Collards" is a corruption of coleworts or colewyrts, Anglo-Saxon terms
literally meaning "cabbage plants."
The cabbagelike plants are native to the eastern Mediterranean or to
Asia Minor. They have been in cultivation for so long, and have been so
shifted about by prehistoric traders and migrating tribes, that it is not
certain which of those two regions is the origin of the species.
The original "cabbage" was undoubtedly a nonheading kind with a
prominent stalk or stem, and the kales and collards are not far removed
from it. Wild forms have become widely distributed from their place of
origin and are found on the coasts of northern Europe and Britain.
Known for at Least 2,000 Years
Apparently none of the several principal forms of kale and collards that
we know today are new. All have been known for at least two thousand
The Greeks grew kale and collards, although they made no such
distinction between them as we make today. Well before the Christian era
the Romans grew several kinds, including those with large leaves and
stalks and a mild flavor; a crisp-leaved form; some with small stalks and
small, sharp-tasting leaves; a broad-leaved form like collards; and others
with curled leaves and a fine flavor. "Coles" were described also in the
1st, 3rd, 4th, and 13th centuries by European writers.
It might appear that the Romans carried the coles to Britain and
France, since the plants were so well known to the Romans and the species
has been popular in those countries for so long. On the other hand, they
may have been taken there somewhat earlier by the Celts.
The first mention of the kales (coleworts) in America was in 1669; but
because of their popularity in European gardens it is probable that they
were introduced somewhat earlier.
Although many forms of Brassica oleracea are now known in parts of the
Orient, they are not nearly so popular as the Far Eastern species of
Kale and collards have remained minor commercial crops in the United
States, although collards are the standard winter greens in home gardens
of the South. Neither crop thrives in hot weather, which gives the plants
a strong, unattractive flavor. Cool growing weather, fall frosts, and mild
winters, however, impart a high sugar content and fine flavor.
Rich in Minerals and Vitamins
Those who know both kale and collards usually consider the latter to have
the better eating quality. Nutrition experts in recent years have sought
to popularize both plants because they are unusually rich in the minerals
and vitamins provided by green leafy foods.
Before the "newer knowledge" of nutrition, our experts bemoaned the
poor diet of southern farmers, especially the Negroes, and were amazed to
find so many of those people to be apparently well nourished. The
ubiquitous collard patch on every farm, and in nearly every dooryard where
there is room, is now believed to play a most important part in furnishing
the necessary vitamins and minerals.
On one truck farm I saw a beautiful 10 acre field of collards. The
farmer explained it was not for sale, but "just a collard patch for the
All varieties of collards appear rather similar, but the kales show
interesting diversity: tall and short; highly curled and plain leaved;
blue-green, yellow-green, and red; erect and flat-growing; in various
combinations and gradations of these characters.
Until the last few years kale and collards were marketed only in the
natural state. Now, however, several enterprising American canners are
preserving them in tin, especially in a finely chopped or "sieved" form as
food for babies or persons requiring a special diet.
Kale and collards are among the easiest of all vegetables to grow. They
are biennials, putting up their flower or seed stalks in the spring of
their second season of growth.