As if three names aren’t enough, this is also sometimes known as Abyssinian Mustard and Abyssinian Cabbage! Brassica carinata is native to the Middle East and East Africa, particularly Ethiopia, where is is known as ‘habesha gomen’. It is believed to be a naturally occurring hybrid of black mustard (Brassica nigra) and cabbage. However this variety was developed by the University of Texas as a new, more commercially viable vegetable, and more suited to temperate regions. The plants have dark green, oval leaves with slightly irregular edges averaging 10 to 18cm long. If cut under 30cm tall, the leaves can be used raw in salads and will give a good supply of cut-and-come-again salad or stir fry leaves, high in vitamin C and with a fantastic garlicky-mustardy-cabbage flavour. If left to grow to maturity fewer leaves will be produced, they can then be used like cabbage. Immature flower stems can be cooked like broccoli and seeds can be harvested and used as a condiment.
In Ethiopia Brassica carinata is eaten as an alternative to meat during the fast of Ramadan, and a powder is made from the seeds to ‘oil’ pans used for baking Injera (fermented flatbread). The oil contained in the seed of the wild species is rich in erucic acid which is toxic, modern vegetable cultivars have been selected to be almost free of erucic acid, with others specifically developed for high acid. The oil can also be used in a wide range of commercial products such as water repellents, waxes, polyesters and lubricants, as well as bio-diesel. This plant is also part of a research to develop an aviation biofuel for jet engines. (On October 29, 2012, the first flight of a jet aircraft powered completely by biofuel, made from Brassica carinata, was completed!). Seed can be saved from the plants and broadcast as a soil-cleansing green manure crop in the manner of mustard.
Brassica carinata is tolerant of a range of climatic conditions, growing from cool temperate through to sub-tropical zones. It prefers a range of range 10 to 25ºC but can handle 5 to 35ºC, therefore they are much more heat tolerant than other cabbages and kales. Frost hardy to zone 9, but some sources say young plants should be covered in winter.
Brassica carinata shows some key differences to most other brassicas. It has a much more extensive root system. Also, some tall cultivars, when grown with adequate moisture, may develop new shoots after removal of the seedheads and become perennial, normally for one further season, but plants of up to 4 years old have been recorded. I’ve been unable to find out if this is so for this variety. Furthermore, although most Brassica species are cross-pollinating, Brassica carinata is an exception as it sets seed very efficiently through self-pollination (but the flowers are still attractive to bees).
Height 60-90cm tall. Full or part sun, moist soil.
9cm pot, certified organic plant.
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