Flowering cabbage, also called flowering kale, is a garden ornamental for fall botanical displays that it holds its color well into the cold of winter. The "flowers" of flowering cabbage refers to a rosette of leaves, and just like their cousins in the vegetable patch, flowering cabbage and kale are perfectly edible, although they might not be too tasty. Because they are grown for their decorative colors, the leaves of flowering cabbage may be too bitter or tough to make a successful dish.
Growing Flowering Cabbage
You'll find pots of flowering cabbage at garden centers starting around September, but it's easy to start your own plants from seed, and it will be less expensive than buying the ready-to-go pots at the store. Start seeds in mid to late July in flats or small pots. The seeds will need warmth and fresh air, so you can grow them outdoors on a protected porch where they won't be damaged by winds or baked in the afternoon sun. As the seedlings grow, move them to larger pots or transplant them out into the yard. Like other members of the cabbage family, flowering cabbage does best in cool weather, and as autumn arrives the plants will grow noticeably fuller and their colors will start to become more vibrant. Flowering cabbage is considered a biennial, which means that in milder climates it may overwinter and, in its second year, put out a true flower stalk.
Flowering cabbage and flowering kale are "genetically identical" and share a scientific name: Brassica oleracea var. acephala. Usually "flowering cabbage" refers to plants that have wavy-edged leaves and "flowering kale" leaves have ruffled or crinkled edges. There are many varieties and hybrids of flowering cabbage and kale with different leaf structures and colors. These include the Osaka series, which grow fast and produce a rosette of wavy leaves, blue-green on the outside with small red or pink centers, and the Peacock series with intensely colored feathery leaves.
Cooking Flowering Cabbage
Think twice about eating flowering cabbage you bought at a garden center because ornamental plants may have been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals that are not approved for use on edible plants. If you have grown the flowering cabbage from seed, feel free to dig in. Flowering cabbage can be harvested and prepared as you would kale from the vegetable garden. Remove the leaves from the stalk and trim away any tough stems. Cut the leaves into strips and steam or saute them in oil until the leaves become tender. You can also add the strips to soup during the last few minutes of cooking. Like other types of kale, flowering cabbage will become sweeter and more tender after the plant has endured a frost or two. Unfortunately, flowering kale often loses its bright colors during the cooking process.
Other Kale Varieties
Many types of kale normally grown in the vegetable garden are pretty enough for the flower bed, too. "Russian Red" grows up to 3 feet tall and produces crinkled, purple-tinged leaves, and "Red Ursa" had curly, frilly leaves that can be harvested well into winter. "Laciniato" -- also called nero di Toscana or dinosaur kale -- has dark green leaves with a fine, full flavor. "Laciniato" kale is widely used in the cuisine of Portugal, Spain and Italy.
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