Not many people look down at their salad bowl and think, gee I wonder why this kale is the way that it is. Most don’t even think about where it was grown or that it was grown, it merely shows up in a salad, either a bowl in a restaurant or perhaps a baggie at the store. But all vegetables have a tale to tell. Some of them are well known and others have been lost to time and only myths and legends remain.
As far as kale goes we as a species have been growing it for years. About 2000 or so, most likely more than that. It all happened in the Mediterranean region. In the wild the brassica oleracea grew with leafy greens. At some point a person tried one and not dying they decided to have some more. This led to the domestication of this plant. Sometime around the 5th century BC there was a preference for larger leafy greens and so each year seeds were taken from the plants with the largest leaves. Selection had been kickstarted and kale as we know it came to be.
It moved out of the warmer regions near the Mediterranean and found some cool climates, but people there found that kale was able to stand the frost and soon it was being grown all over Europe. It became soo popular that kale was the most widely eaten green vegetable until the Middle Ages. At some time along our timeline a group of people decided that instead of large green leaves smaller more tender leaves were the more desirable trait.
As farmers moved toward the smaller leaves they found that the leaves would form tighter around the center of the plant. This was easier to pick so these were selected for again and again. Eventually the kale grew so dense that the leaves began to fold over on themselves to form a head. And that head would become cabbage as we know it today. It is also what would take over in the Middle Ages as the most eaten green vegetable.
It gets somewhat tricky as you can see, for though it is still grown today, kale is what evolved into cabbage. But according to botanists kale and cabbage aren’t different species. They are merely varieties of the same species, brassica oleracea. To make it even worse, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts are all the same species as well.
Despite that similarity to so many other crops kale has continued to be grown and has in fact flourished over the past decade or so. As scientist have labeled it a “super food” containing a hearty helping of helpful vitamins and minerals more and more people have been searching for kale to eat or in some cases like this one, grow their own. Luckily the over two thousand years of growing kale has given us more than simply cabbage. Since so many people grew kale for so long with no one goal in mind we know have a wide variety of kales to select from, either to purchase for your salad or to grow your own.