In its wild state the cabbage is found on the sea cliffs of western and southern Europe and on the coasts of the English Channel. It has been known from earliest antiquity and was probably in general use previous to the Aryan invasions, 2,000 to 2,500 b. c. Several types were cultivated in the time of Pliny. De Candolle and most authors of English floras admit the plant to be indigenous to Europe. No doubt it was used in the wild state before there were cultivated forms.
The wild cabbage plant is herbaceous, usually perennial and sometimes biennial, attaining a height of 2 to 3 feet. The root is tough and woody; the leaves are stalked, lyrate or pinnatifid, entire, broad, undulated, thick, smooth, covered with a glaucous bloom. The stem bears at the top a spike of yellow, rarely white flowers.
There is great variation among cultivated types, particularly of the leaves. The outer leaves may be large or small; few or many; flat or curved; curved inward or curved outward; inclosing the head closely or loosely; long or short; broad or narrow; thick or thin; base well filled out or spatulate; veins few or many, fine or coarse; margin entire or crenate; surface flat or undulate, smooth or crumpled; shape uniform or variable; savoyed little or much, finely or coarsely; color light green, dark green, red or tinged with purple; border sometimes tinged with purple; color uniform or variable; bloom much or little, bright or dull.
The heads may be large or small; flat, flattened, globular or elongated; pointed acutely or obtusely; horizontal section round or angular; soft to very hard. The head leaves may reach or pass beyond the center; drawn or folded tightly or loosely; thick or thin; crisp or tough; well blanched or poorly blanched; sweet or bitter; flavor good or poor. Core large or small; long or short.