Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Jersey cabbage

From the nineteenth century until well into the twentieth century giant cabbages (Brassica oleracea) which were reputed to reach up to 20ft in height were widely cultivated on Jersey.

Their leaves were pulled off and fed to cows.  When the growing tips were about to flower they were removed for human consumption or fed to cattle, leaving woody stems which could not be eaten but were converted into walking sticks. A leading manufacturer of these sticks was Henry Charles Gee, who sold them from his St Helier shop from the 1870s until 1928.  During late Victorian times  five or six hundred sticks were sold each year, but by the late 1930s, when his daughter had taken over the business, only about 150 were sold.

In the sixth (c.1907) edition of Ward Lock’s guide to the Channel Islands it was reported that ‘the craving by visitors for these sticks is humorously known as the Jersey fever. Nearly all holiday-makers succumb.’  Until at least as late as 1969 small clumps of giant cabbages could be seen growing on the island, and in the 1980s L’Etacq Woodcrafts continued to make walking stick, ‘thimbles, fly swats, shoehorns, collector’s eggs, keyrings and lighters’ from cabbage stalks.

Sources:                                                      Anon., 1985. The Jersey Giant Cabbage, St Ouen: L’Etacq Woodcrafts.                                                                              Parker, S. & Stevens Cox, G. 1974. The Giant Cabbage of the Channel Islands, ed.2, St Peter Port: Toucan Press.

Adapted from Vickery’s Folk Flora (2019).

Images: main, detail of card posted 1904;  upper inset,  another card posted 1904, the sender commented ‘nearly all the cabbages grow like this over here – interesting eh?’; middle inset, card posted 1946; lower inset, seedpacket, purchased 1995.

4 April 2024.