- Brassica oleracea (cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi) probably originated in wild plants growing in coastal regions of the eastern Mediterranean. These must have looked a bit like a kind of kale. The Greeks and Romans were growing them before 2500 years ago. Sometime around 2000 years ago something like cabbages were bred. A form with fat stems – kohl rabi – were grown in Germany at about the same time. About 500 years ago cauliflower and broccoli were grown in Italy and Sicily. Brussels sprouts only appeared (in Brussels) about 300 years ago.
- Brassica rapa (turnip, Chinese cabbages, etc) is thought to have originated in the Hindu Kush 4000 to 6000 years ago. Turnips were eaten in ancient Rome.
- Brassica napus (oilseed rape, swede) Swedes (rutabagas) were bred in Northern Europe around 500 years ago, and only came to Britain by 1750. Oil has been extracted from Brassica napus since ancient times. Nowadays it is used for cooking (“canola”), animal feed, and even biodiesel.
- Brassica nigra (black mustard seed) has been used as a condiment for over 2000 years. Around 800 years ago in France ground mustard seed was mixed with unfermented grape juice (“must”). The result gave us our word “mustard”, which means “ardent (burning) must”. Not so long ago mustard plasters were used as a treatment for colds.