Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Cabbages and babies

Before the days of sex education children were told that babies were found, or arrived, by a variety of improbable means.  In west Dorset in the 1950s babies were said to brought in the doctor’s black bag, and, of course, in parts of Europe storks were said to deliver them.  In Guernsey in the 1880s babies were ‘brought over in band-boxes from England in the mail packets [1]. Also widespread in Britain was the idea that babies were dug out from parsley, Petroselinum crispum, beds, or found in cabbage, Brassica oleracea, patches or in gooseberry, Ribes uva-crispa, bushes.

Patrick Kavanagh writing of his childhood in Co. Monaghan in c.1910 recalled:                                                                                                                         ‘I knew the secret of birth before I was five years old …  The small children at school and on the lanes debated the whereabouts of the finding of the latest baby.                                                                                                                      “Under a stalk of cabbage he was found.”                                                       “Lord, and do ye know where I was found?”                                                    “Where?”                                                                                                                         “Under a stalk of cabbage.”                                                                                         Nearly all the children seemed to derive from the caterpillars.  I didn’t mind the lie but the lack of originality and variety rather annoyed me.’

1.  J. Stevens Cox, Guernsey Folklore recorded in the Summer of 1882, 1971, p.7.

2. P. Kavanagh, The Green Fool, 1975, p.21.

Other records of babies being said to be found in cabbages would be appreciated, please send them to

Images:  main, detail of undated card; inset, card posted in Écaussinnes, Belgium in 190[?4].  Both cards are obviously part of the same series, and although the caption on the inset is in French, on the reverse of the cards ‘carte postal’ is given in 16 languages, so they were intended for wide distribution.