Brassicaceae – the cabbage family

Here is the last article in the series looking at the different plant families.  The last family which I am going to cover is the cabbage family.  This family is also known as the mustard family as well as Cruciferae (which was the old plant family name).  This older name related to a key identification feature – cruciferae means cross bearing and all of the flowers in this family have four petals which are arranged in the shape of a cross.  The family contains over 330 genera and about 3,700 species and is a medium sized family of economic importance as a lot of our food sources are from this family.  They are mainly herbaceous plants and a mixture of annuals, biennials, and perennials.  Can you think of any plants from this family that you would eat?

Love your food

Love your food

Some examples of food crops from the brassicaceae family include: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, rapeseed, mustard, radish, horseradish, cress, wasabi, and watercress.  Did you get any right?

cabbage family examples

Interestingly, six of our common vegetables–cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale–were all bred from a single species of mustard, Brassica oleracea. Plant breeders developed the starch-storage abilities of different parts of the plant to come up with each unique vegetable. Commercial mustard is usually made from the seeds of the black mustard (B. nigra) mixed with vinegar.

brassicaceae breeding

In addition to their long culinary history, these vegetables are revered because they are filled with vitamins, nutrients, and minerals essential for good health. Many of these vegetables can be eaten when very young and most are relatively easy to grow. It’s not surprising that all of these qualities have led this to be one of the most popular families in vegetable gardens.  Around 40% of all vegetables consumed in Northwest Europe are members of the Brassica family.

Plant Identification

Brassicaceae

They are a highly uniform group and so Brassicaceae are easily identified by the four petals when in flower.

  • They are usually herbaceous in habit, occasionally becoming shrubby.
  • Leaves are alternate and either simple or pinnate.
  • The distinctive flowers are yellow, white or pinkish/purplish and are usually carried in a spike.They have 2 fused carpels and 6 stamens: usually 4 long, 2 short. They are odourless.
  • The fruit is a capsule.
  • As you become more familiar with this family, you will begin to notice patterns in the taste and smell of the plants. While each species has its own unique taste and smell, you will soon discover an underlying pattern of mustardness. You will be able to recognize likely members of the family simply by crushing the leaves and smelling them.

All species of Mustard are edible, although some taste better than others. In other words, it doesn’t matter which species of mustard you find. As long as you have correctly identified it as a member of the Mustard family, then you can safely try it and see if you want it in your salad or not.  Which is a good thing as members of this family can be difficult to tell apart.  Most members of the Mustard family are weedy species with short lifecycles like the radish. Look for them in disturbed soils such as a garden or construction site, where the ground is exposed to rapid drying by the sun and wind. The Mustards sprout quickly and grow fast, flowering and setting seed early in the season before all moisture is lost from the ground.

In the Grimsby area you can see Rape escaped, Shepard’s Purse, Charlock, Garlic Mustard, Horseradish, Watercress and Hedge Mustard to name just a few.  Unfortunately in this area the council spray Glycophytes/RoundUp everywhere so please only harvest in your garden (if you don’t use chemicals) or from a designated organic area.

Key medicinal theme: Pungency and stimulation

The chemicals produced by this family are mustard-oil glycosides (glucosinolates) which defend the plants against microorganisms and animals. They can poison livestock if eaten in sufficient quantities and therefore charlock is seen as a troublesome weed on arable land and not an early source of a cabbage like vegetable (cabbages are slow growing whilst charlock is quick).

Brassica plants are particularly rich in glucosinolates (Mustard oil glycosides) and therefore a spicy mustard like taste is characteristic of the family.  The glucosinolates are probably responsible for most of the medicinal actions of the herbs of this family. They are digestive stimulants and respiratory decongestants with antibacterial and antifungal actions.

Externally, they have a rubefacient effect exploited in the use of the mustards and cabbage in poultices for anti-inflammatory effects.  If you have ever breastfed or strained your knee you may have used a cabbage leaf to ease the pain as a poultice.

Members of this family contain factors that may prevent cancers, leave are used for rheumatism and toothaches and seeds can be used for headaches and as a tonic. Mustard oils can cause skin irritation and ulcers from both external application and consumption.  Brassicas are also usually a good source of vitamin C.

shepherds purse

Capsella bursa-pastoris is one of the most useful of all herbal styptics / haemostatics. However, this is not an action often seen in other members of the family.  Brassicaceae were only rarely used in folk medicine in the UK. The most frequent uses are for scurvy and as purifying tonics (Nasturtium officinale, Scurvy-grass and Charlock); and for stopping bleeding (Capsella bursa-pastoris only)

broccoli

Here are some recipes which include broccoli a member of the brassicaceae family:

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

• 10 tablespoons of butter
• 1/2 cup tapioca flour
• 3 cups homemade chicken stock, that is hot, or 2 cups stock and 1 cup dry white wine
• 1 cup of cream, or whole milk
• 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
• 2 teaspoons sea salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 1 large onion cut in half
• 3 cloves garlic, cut in half
• 6-8 cups of broccoli, florets and stalks chopped into small pieces(3-4 stalks)
• 4 cups extra sharp cheddar, plus extra to use as a garnish (or a mixture of mild and sharp cheddar)

Directions

  1. Add the butter to a large chef’s pan over medium high heat until melted.
  2. Add the flour and stir with a whisk for a few minutes. Once it’s well incorporated slowly whisk in 1 cup of hot broth at a time, adding the wine last if you are using it. Whisk until smooth and all the liquid has been added.
  3. Turn up the heat, bring to a boil. Add the onion halves and garlic pieces and cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream, Dijon, tarragon, salt and nutmeg.
  4. Meanwhile in another pot steam the broccoli until tender. While the broccoli is steaming, shred the cheese. Remove onion and garlic pieces from the soup base and add the broccoli. Take about 1/3 of the mixture and blend it in a food processor or blender. Return to the pot and add 4 cups of cheese. Stir to melt the cheese. Add extra cheese to individual bowls.

Broccoli Casserole

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

• 1 – 1 1/2 pounds fresh organic broccoli, lightly steamed and chopped
• Butter
• 2 cups cultured sour cream
• 2 cups grated New Zealand Cheddar
• 2-3 pastured eggs
• 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon dried basil
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• Sea salt and black pepper to taste
• 1/2 -1 cup sautéed sliced mushrooms (optional)
• Juice of half a lemon (optional)
• Several splashes of fish sauce (optional)

Directions

  1. Butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix together the broccoli, sour cream, cheddar, eggs, garlic, paprika, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and if using the mushrooms, fish sauce and lemon juice.
  3. Place the mixture in the casserole dish. Bake 30 minutes.

Nourishing Broccoli Salad

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

• 2 heads of broccoli, stem peeled and cut into small pieces, as well as florets cut into small pieces, blanched in boiling water for 3 minutes, drained and rinsed under cold water until steam has dissipated.
• 1/2 a red onion, sliced thin
• 2-4 scallions, thinly sliced
• 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small slivers
• 8 pieces of bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled

Dressing

Ingredients

• 1 cup sour cream
• 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
• 3 Tbsp. olive oil
• 2 Tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar
• 2 garlic cloves minced
• 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. Mix all salad ingredients together and toss with the dressing. Let sit for 30 minutes for flavors to meld together.
  3. Enjoy at room temperature or chilled. This salad can be prepared up to a day in advance.
  4. Don’t forget to take this to the next picnic you are headed to this summer!!

Crocodile Nuggets

Serves 4

Ingredients

• 3 cups finely shredded, raw or cooked vegetables (I used a mixture of
• broccoli, carrot, cabbage and cauliflower)
• 4 cups finely ground, cooked chicken or turkey
• 4 cups breadcrumbs or cooked rice, or ½ cup coconut flour
• 3 Tbs nutritional yeast or 2 cups shredded cheese, if not dairy-free
• 6 eggs, beaten, egg replacer or 1½ cups leftover mashed potatoes
• 1 tsp garlic granules or powder
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
• 1/2 tsp onion powder

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat and set aside.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Add some extra breadcrumbs if the mixture is too wet, or add an extra egg if the mixture is too dry to stick together.
  3. Shape the mixture into patties. I used a 2-ounce cookie scoop to make it quick and uniform. Place on the cookie sheet.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes per side or until lightly browned. Serve with ranch dressing, carrot sticks & celery sticks.

To freeze, place the patties in a single layer on a sheet pan and freeze until solid, then transfer to a zip-top bag or container. They freeze well for up to a month.

Broccoli and Potato Frittata

Serve 2-4

Frittatas are a wonderfully quick way to prepare a hot and nutritious dish out of minimal ingredients. When I found myself with a bit of leftover broccoli and leftover fried potatoes, frittata seemed the perfect dish.

Ingredients

• Leftover fried potatoes
• Leftover steamed broccoli
• 3 or 4 eggs
• 1 cup milk, water or ½ milk, ½ water
• Optional addition: Up to 2 cups shredded cheese
• Healthy oil for cooking

Directions

  1. Turn your broiler on. In a skillet, over medium heat, warm the potatoes and broccoli in a bit of oil. Meanwhile combine the eggs and milk until the eggs are well beaten.
  2. When the potatoes and broccoli are warm add a little additional fat and then position them so they cover the bottom.
  3. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables. Use a knife to wiggle the eggs in to allow the eggs to spread evenly.
  4. Allow to cook undisturbed for a few minutes so the bottom will begin to set up. Then using your spatula go around the edges of the egg and lift it slightly allowing the uncooked parts to run under the lifted part. Continue to do this until the egg is mostly set.
  5. Then carefully move the egg dish under the broiler. This will allow the top of the eggs to finish cooking. It only takes a few minutes so keep a close eye on it. The eggs will puff up and be a gorgeous tan when done. Remove from oven.
  6. Cut in wedges and serve. This is delicious topped with fresh sour cream.

Gluten-Free Broccoli Cheese Soup

Ingredients

• 8 TBL butter (from grassfed cows)
• 1 organic onion, diced
• 2 organic carrots, diced
• 2 ribs organic celery, diced
• 3-4 cloves garlic, smashed, diced
• 8 cups of organic broccoli florets and stalks chopped into small pieces(4-5 stalks)
• Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• ¼ tsp white pepper
• 2 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock/broth
• 1 cup dry white wine (or additional cup stock)
• 1 cup of raw cream or crème fraiche (from grass-fed cows)
• 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 3 cups extra sharp grass fed cheddar

Directions

  1. Add the butter to a large stock pot over medium high heat until melted. Add onions, carrots and celery and sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add broccoli and stir to coat well with butter. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add broth and optional wine. Turn up the heat, bring to a low boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook covered (with lid on) until broccoli pieces are soft (roughly about 15 minutes).
  4. Remove from heat. With an immersion/stick blender, puree soup to desired consistency, or process in a regular blender, in batches, taking care not to burn yourself . Return to pot, off heat, stir in cream, dijon, nutmeg and cheese. Stir to combine and melt cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  5. If soup needs to be reheated, reheat slowly and do not allow it to come to a boil. Serve immediately.

On GAPS? If you use creme fraiche and cheddar cheese, this soup is GAPS friendly, as long as you tolerate dairy. Double check the ingredients on your dijon mustard to make sure it’s GAPS legal, or simply omit.
Vegetarian? Just sub veggie broth for the chicken broth.
Basic Stir Fry

Serves 2 and then some depending on how many vegetables you use (leftovers!!)

Ingredients

• 1/2 cup quality stir fry beef
• A truck load of chopped up veg Including things like:
• bok choy
• mushrooms
• peppers
• onions
• broccoli
• eggplant
• zucchini
• green beans
• baby corn
• 1 – 2 tsp gluten free tamari
• Optional: sesame seeds, unrefined sesame oil, and green onions
• Brown rice

Directions

  1. Chop up your veggies and meat
  2. Saute the meat and veggies on medium heat with a bit of virgin coconut oil.
  3. Put your serving on plate and add the tamari after cooking rather than during (because it seems like the taste gets lost in cooking and you have to add more and more and more).
  4. Serve with 1/2 cup of brown rice if you wish.
  5. Top with sesame oil, sesame seeds, and green onions if desired!
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