“Both kohl and kraut denote cabbage in Germany, although strictly speaking they are not synonymous. Kohl is cabbage, and everything in that family is some kind of kohl. Cauliflower is blumenkohl, or flower cabbage; kale is grunkohl or braunkohl, because it is green raw but darkens to a brownish color when cooked; common white cabbage is weisskohl; winter cabbage is winterkohl; red cabbage is rotkohl, while curly, mild-flavored savoy is wirsing. Brussels sprouts are rose cabbage, rosenkohl; the name kohlrabi denotes a vegetable that is half cabbage, half turnip. Kraut, literally, is a puree or concentration of any fruit or vegetable; shredded cabbage is kraut. When shredded cabbage is pickled or sour, it becomes sauerkraut.” Mimi Sheraton, The German Cookbook
Cabbage is a biennial plant grown as an annual vegetable for its green, red or white dense-leaved heads. As the above Mimi Sheraton quote indicates, it is closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts. Experts think that cabbage was domesticated in Europe before 1000 BC, although some varieties, like savoys, did not appear until the 16th century AD. By the Middle Ages, cabbage was an important part of European cuisine.
Because it is not native to the Nile valley, it is unlikely that ancient Egyptians cultivated cabbage, although records indicate that the Greeks had some varieties of cabbage and, by early Roman times, they had been introduced to Egypt. The Greeks were convinced that cabbage, planted too close to grape vines, would impart their sulfurous odor to the grapes. This may have been the beginning of the long held Mediterranean antipathy to cabbage. Romans, however, enjoyed cabbage and thought it offered medicinal benefits including relief from gout, headaches and the aftereffects of ingesting poisonous mushrooms. They further believed that, given its supposed relationship to grapes, cabbage could prevent drunkenness.
When round headed cabbages appeared in 14th century England, they were called cabaches or caboches, old French words that referred to their dense, round heads. They were a prominent vegetable, especially as a staple for the poor, in Great Britain and Europe during the high Middle Ages, and later followed the trade routes to Asia and the Americas. Cabbage reached India courtesy of colonizing Portuguese traders between the 14th and 17th centuries, but was still unknown in Japan until the last quarter of the 18th century.
Savoy cabbage was developed by German gardeners in the 16th century, and cabbage became a food staple in Germany, England, Ireland and Russia during the 17th and 18th centuries. Sauerkraut was used by Dutch, Scandinavian and German sailors to prevent scurvy during long sea voyages. Brought to the Americas by English colonists, by the 18th century cabbage was planted both by colonists and by native Americans. By the end of the 18th century, cabbage reached Australia and was accepted as a favorite Australian vegetable by the 1830s.