Oranges, kale and withies in garden plots outside Abrunheira, March 2012
In Portugal, March usually brings the end of the dull dark winter days and the flowering of spring. But not exactly in 2012, flowering needs rain, and the country remained obstinately dry throughout the month. Few plants grew, few plants flowered, everything remained in waiting. Indeed, there were fears of a serious drought.
This large umbellifer is a plant which grows in late winter. It was well known to the “ancients” in the Mediterranean area as a winter vegetable (rather like celery) at a time when not much else is available. It was spread over much of Europe in Roman times and now occurs even in northern Europe, generally near the sea in Britain.
It appears as bright splashes of green, topped with yellow flowers, along roadsides and in waste places. However, nobody seems to eat it much any more.
Its English name is a bit of an enigma. Some relate it to Alexandria, but it seems more likely to be a deformation of “olusatrum” (which incidentally refers back to “olus”, Latin for a pot-herb).
Brassica oleracea var. acephala
B. oleracea is of course cabbage, a plant which produces a big ball of leaves in winter, then flowers (yellow) in the second year. Typical cabbage exists in Portugal, as a commercially cultivated crop, but it’s not the cabbage that grows on people’s allotments. This is a tall bushy plant with lots of spreading dark green crinkly leaves, which flowers white in the late winter. It is known in Portuguese as “Galician cabbage”. This is the plant which, chopped up finely, is the main ingredient of “caldo verde”, the cabbage soup which is a staple food throughout the country. The white flowers are a conspicuous feature of the March countryside