Drawing of plants from The Complete Herbal

Have you ever wondered why in the UK cabbage was traditionally ‘boiled to death’—as one of the contributors to School Dinner Memories says, they were put on at 9 a.m. to be ready to eat at 1 p.m.—well perhaps Nicholas Culpeper is partly to blame. On the other hand he recommends cabbages and coleworts for use in curing all sorts of ailments and conditions. ‘Colewort’ is the original name for the vegetable from which cabbages and other brassicas were developed and therefore includes varieties of kale and the American ‘collard greens’.

I shall spare labour in writing a description of these, since almost every one that can but write at all, may describe them from his own knowledge, they being generally so well known, that descriptions are altogether needless.

Place. They are generally planted in gardens.

Time. Their flower time is towards the middle, or end of July, and the seed is ripe in August.

Government and virtues. The Cabbages or Coleworts boiled gently in broth, and eaten, do open the body, but the second decoction doth bind the body. The juice thereof drank in wine, helps those that are bitten by an adder, and the decoction of the flowers brings down women’s courses: Being taken with honey, it recovers hoarseness, or loss of the voice. The often eating of them well boiled, helps those that are entering into a consumption. The pulp of the middle ribs of Coleworts boiled in almond milk, and made up into an electuary with honey, being taken often, is very profitable for those that are puffy and short winded.

Being boiled twice, an old cock boiled in the broth and drank, it helps the pains and the obstructions of the liver and spleen, and the stone in the kidneys. The juice boiled with honey, and dropped into the corner of the eyes, clears the sight, by consuming any film or clouds beginning to dim it; it also consumes the cankers growing therein. They are much commended, being eaten before meat to keep one from surfeiting, as also from being drunk with too much wine, or quickly to make a man sober again that was drunk before. For (as they say) there is such an antipathy or enmity between the Vine and the Coleworts, that the one will die where the other grows.

The decoction of Coleworts takes away the pain and ache, and allays the swelling of sores and gouty legs and knees, wherein many gross and watery humours are fallen, the place being bathed therewith warm. It helps also old and filthy sores, being bathed therewith, and heals all small scabs, pushes, and wheals, that break out in the skin. The ashes of Colewort stalks mixed with old hog’s-grease, are very effectual to anoint the sides of those that have had long pains therein, or any other place pained with melancholy and windy humours.

This was surely Chrysippus’s God, and therefore he wrote a whole volume on them and their virtues, and that none of the least neither, for he would be no small fool; He appropriates them to every part of the body, and to every disease in every part: and honest old Cato (they say) used no other physic. I know not what metal their bodies were made of; this I am sure, Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine: yea, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows, and they are but seldom eaten in our days; and Colewort flowers are something more tolerable, and the wholesomer food of the two. The Moon challenges the dominion of this herb.

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