The folklore I love most in all the world is the kind of folklore that involves rubbing vegetables on a problem. And frankly I don’t do enough of it. But today, after a long, long week in front of a screen, my neck was on fire, so I busted out the cabbage. Obviously.
Culpeper waxes lyrical about the remedial properties of the brassica family ranging from adder bites to windy humours, while Vickery tells of cabbage leaves being the cure for arthritis, fevers and hangovers. But probably the most well-known and accepted cabbage cure is its ability to help alleviate mastitis.
But it’s also said that cabbage leaves are good for treating straightforward inflammation and muscle ache. And that’s what I was after. The craic is to bruise a cabbage leaf or two to release their juices and apply as a bandage to the affected area, wait for a bit and then Bob’s your lobster.
So I hoisted a slightly manky white cabbage out of the fridge and began to pry off the leaves. I realised almost immediately the leaves were pretty unforgiving which probably meant I was using the wrong kind of cabbage. But the thought of then having to source a savoy on a Friday night did not fill me with any delight, so I blundered on and bashed what I had with a rolling pin.
However, one of my sources said that the cabbage could be used as a hot compress, so into the microwave my leaves went. Only I was a little over enthusiastic, and post nuke had me wafting the now limp leaves in an attempt to cool them down. And eating any errant bits that fell off.
Eventually, when I felt I was out of danger of giving myself skin blisters on top of hunch-burn, I applied the cabbage leaves to my C-7. And the relief was immediate. Everything was suddenly all right with the world again. The hunch-burn was still there but the cabbage was totally hammering it. Happy, I wrapped a knee-high sock around my neck to hold the leaves in place and ate my dinner.
I didn’t really need the sock (complete lack of bandages and I felt gaffer tape wasn’t a sensible alternative) as the leaves were just clammy enough to stick to my skin but as they cooled down, they loosened, and the sock started to itch.
After an hour I peeled myself free. By now the cabbage leaves were a rather unpleasant temperature, and moist, and sadly the hunch-burn still lingered. But regardless, I’m calling this folklore for the win, as those first few minutes of hot cabbage to neck was the closest thing to vegetable heaven I’ve ever achieved. Except for eating scalding fat chipper chips with onion vinegar and mayonnaise. Obviously.
Complete with chocolate and tiny plastic baby arms inside.
Culpeper (1995) Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, Ware, Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Vickery, R. (2019) Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson