Tales of Kale

From ancient times to your blender — eat, drink & be merry

by SeedGal, seedgal.com — all rights reserved May 27, 2017

Kale History

Unconvincing claims might say kale was ‘domesticated’ in the 1700’s; kale was distributed broadly by then, however different forms of kale were cultivated for eons. Digging through the roots of kale is intriguing and so is understanding the origin of the plant’s name. Kale is based on the original wild cabbage which is polymorphic; each form of cabbage (there are eight) was cultivated as a regional favorite throughout early Europe and in ancient Greece. Native American Indians cultivated a form of kale, prior to Europeans bringing vegetable seeds to America as they immigrated in mass.¹
The word kale appears to be similar for cabbage from Celtic times. The ancient Norse called it ‘kal’ (same for Swedish) and in Scotland ‘Kail’. Many cultures had similar names for example Danish ‘kaal’.² The Celtic names carried over to Asia and ‘Asia Minor; Tartars called cabbage ‘kapsta’.

For the purpose of discourse there are references explaining the word is Scottish derived from coles³ an old English term for kale. The vegetable wasn’t readily consumed or recorded as a food source in the UK until the mid-18th century. It seems likely that several cultures grew their favorite form of cabbage for centuries, with little deviation from the same words to describe it.

As shown, these sprouts need to be thinned, the method of intensive planting keeps weeds out. Gardeners can thin, yet still use sprouts as a food source. These Dwarf Siberian Kale sprouts had germinated in temperatures of 45° to 55°. These heirloom seeds may have been introduced by Russian traders traveling through Canada and the USA.

Growing Kale

Kale we know today is the non-heading form of cabbage. Typically kale is a cool weather crop, however gardeners have grown kale throughout the Midwest in the summer.⁴ Seeds can be directly sown into the garden bed or planted outdoors in containers all season long. This cold hardy green is fine as a winter food source in many climates. With leaf, straw, grass, or pine mulch you can grow kale in early winter. Try the cut-and-come-again technique for harvesting kale, select outer leaves, allowing center leaves to grow out again. 
Sow by either making shallow furrows or covering seeds with about ⅛ inch soil. Sprouts typically appear in about a week with optimal temperatures about 45–70 degrees. Kale can thrive in winter even in zone 3, with the use of your favorite mulch to improve chances of winter harvest.

Harvest Time for Kale

For tender consistency, harvest right on time for the variety you have.
For Dwarf Siberian Kale, signs of being ready to harvest include the leaves retain a medium green with a sheen; darker leaves are considered overdue. An attractive and compact form, Dwarf Siberian Kale is ready to harvest as a mature plant in about 50 days. Enjoy earlier as sprouts for a cold blended drink or salad addition.

Dwarf Siberian Kale has curly, frilled leaf edges like cultivars from ancient Greece.

Kale Nutritional Research

During Roman times (about 2,000 years ago) forms of cabbage such as kale was thought to keep Romans so healthy, they didn’t even need doctors.
Today, research continues on cruciferous vegetables with an interest in glucosinolates; naturally available from kale and potentially beneficial to our health. One cup of fresh kale contains 1 gram of glucosinolates,⁵ almost 2½ grams of protein and has trace amounts of calcium, potassium, folate, vitamins C, E, and A.⁶
A naturopathic physician at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center, attributes kale with anti-inflammatory effects. Like other veggies; nutrients are easily digested with quick style cooking like a sauté. Some of the benefits of kale are diminished with over cooking.⁷
(1) Storl, Wolf D. A Curious History of Vegetables. North Atlantic Books, 2016

(2) Word origins, Etymology Dictionary http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=cole

(3) University of Florida, Horticultural Sciences http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mv084

(4) Elzer-Peters, Katie. Midwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening. Cool Springs Press, 2013

(5) National Cancer Institute

(6) USDA https://reedir.arsnet.usda.gov/codesearchwebapp/(S(yobfqj4xfwqflak15w3u31jb))/codesearch.aspx

(7) Washington Post, Herald Tribune