Chinese Cabbage (Brassica rapa Pekinensis Group), also known as Napa Cabbage, is one of the two main types of Chinese Cabbage. A popular ingredient in Asian cuisine, this cool-season vegetable is easy to grow in the home garden. It is prized for its densely packed, large, and elongated heads.
What is Chinese Cabbage?
- Chinese Cabbage belongs to the Brassicaceae or cabbage family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, and horseradish.
- Native to the Beijing region of China, this subspecies of Brassica rapa is also known as Celery Cabbage, Chinese Cabbage, Napa Cabbage, and Peking Cabbage.
- Widely used in East Asian cuisine, Chinese Cabbage has become a widespread crop in Europe, the Americas, and Australia.
- This annual to biennial cruciferous vegetable forms a tight cylindrical head of crinkled pale green leaves, about 12 in. long (30 cm), with white midribs.
- The flower stalks have the yellow, four-petal cross typical of the cruciferous family.
- The plant can reach 10-12 inches in height (25-30 cm) and 6-10 inches in spread (15-25 cm).
- Chinese Cabbage is winter-hardy and tolerates light frost.
- Rich in nutrients but low in calories, it provides many health benefits. Add it to your diet and enjoy it in fresh salads and savory dishes.
Chinese or Napa Cabbage should not be confused with the other subspecies, Brassica rapa Chinensis Group, known as Bok Choy, Chinese White Cabbage, Field Mustard, Mustard Cabbage, or Pak Choi. While these two vegetables look alike and even share common names, they are slightly different.
- Bok Choy is slightly larger, with thick white stalks and spoon-shaped, dark green leaves. Napa cabbage features densely packed, large and elongated heads of crinkly pale green leaves.
- Bok Choy has a much stronger taste and takes longer to cook than Napa cabbage.
- Bok Choy is more cold tolerant (USDA Zones 2-11) than Napa cabbage (USDA Zones 4-7).
- Finally, Bok Choy is typically ready to be harvested 45-60 days after planting, while Napa needs 70-90 days to reach maturity.
Chinese Cabbage Health Benefits
- While Chinese Cabbage makes a flavorful addition to many dishes, it also provides health benefits.
- It is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and contains vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
- Vitamin C: one cup of Napa Cabbage contains 5.8% of your daily needs. Vitamin C serves many essential roles in the body, helps make collagen, and boosts your immune system.
- Vitamin A: one cup contains 5.7% of your daily needs. This vitamin is essential for your eyes, immune system, heart, and kidneys.
- Chinese Cabbage contains folate, a B vitamin that helps lower the risk of birth defects and is also important for reducing depression.
- It is also a good source of iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.
- It also contains powerful antioxidants, which fight harmful free radicals and inflammation.
- Chinese Cabbage promotes bone structure and strength thanks to its content of iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin K.
- In Chinese Cabbage, calcium, potassium, and magnesium can help naturally lower blood pressure.
- Some studies suggest that Chinese Cabbage could lower the risk of developing lung, prostate, and colon cancer.
- Nutrition Facts (one cup or 109g): 13 calories, 2.4 grams carbs, 1.2 grams protein, 0.2 grams fat, 0 grams fiber.
Cooking with Chinese Cabbage
- Chinese Cabbage is quite versatile and can be eaten fresh or cooked.
- It can be shredded into slaws or green salads. It has a crisp, subtly sweet, mild flavor.
- It can also be braised, stewed, grilled, stir-fried, and boiled.
- A key ingredient in Asian cuisine, it can be chopped and stuffed into dumplings or fresh spring rolls, added into soups, mixed into noodle dishes, or lightly stir-fried and served as a side dish.
- It is also popularly fermented and used to make the famous Korean kimchi dish.
- Chinese Cabbage can be used in sandwiches, as a lettuce wrap, or as a creamed side dish.
- The leaves can be kept for 1-2 weeks when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer.
Growing Chinese Cabbage
- Chinese Cabbage grows up to 10-12 inches tall (25-30 cm) and 6-10 inches wide (15-25 cm), depending on the variety.
- It performs best in full sun to partial shade in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils with a pH between 6.0-7.5.
- Prepare the soil in advance by adding well-rotted manure or garden compost.
- Depending on the variety, Chinese Cabbage takes 70-90 days to harvest when planted from seed or 60-70 days when using transplants.
- Chinese Cabbage is a cool-season crop that can withstand light frost. Although it can grow in temperatures between 50-80°F (10-27°C), it performs best in temperatures between 60-65°F (15-18°C). Temperatures below 50°F (10°C) or above 80°F (27°C) will cause the plant to bolt (flower).
- You can grow this cruciferous vegetable from seed or nursery seedlings.
- Seeds are usually started indoors six to seven weeks before the last frost.
- Sow seeds about ¼ inch deep (½ cm) and 3-4 inches apart (7-10 cm) in early spring for a midsummer harvest.
- In most regions, gardeners can sow seeds in mid-summer for a fall crop.
- If sown during the summer, your Cabbage may bolt: a flower stalk appears, leading to the end of leaf growth and a bitter taste.
- Chinese Cabbage can be grown in containers of a minimum size of 5 gallons per cabbage plant.
- Thin seedlings 12-20 in apart (30-50 cm), depending on the variety.
- Keep the soil weed free.
- Mulch to retain moisture and control weeds.
- Chinese Cabbage is a heavy feeder susceptible to nutrient deficiencies, including boron, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.
- Make sure you add compost and organic fertilizer to the soil before planting.
- Practice crop rotation: To avoid diseases and pests that persist in the soil, do not plant Chinese Cabbage where members of the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, or kale) have grown for at least 3 years.
- Chinese Cabbage is propagated by seed.
Harvesting and Storing
- Chinese Cabbage takes 70-90 days to harvest when planted from seed or 60-70 days when using transplants.
- You should check after 70 days your cabbage heads. If mature, they should be dense and firm.
- When harvesting, cut the whole head at ground level.
Pests and Diseases
Chinese Cabbage is a host for a wide range of pests and diseases.
- Pests: Keep an eye out for aphids, cabbage aphids, cabbage root maggot, cabbageworms, cutworms, diamondback moth, flea beetles, grasshoppers, harlequin bugs, slugs, and snails. Row covers may help prevent insect and frost damage.
- Diseases: Brassica Alternaria, leaf spot, Brassica Black Rot, Brassica Downy Mildew, and Cabbage Soft Rot.
Since Chinese Cabbage belongs to the same family as Cabbage (Brassicaceae), it likes and dislikes the same plants.
Excellent companion plants are Agastache, Beets, Borage, Calendula, Celery, Chamomile, Cabbage, Collards, Dill, Garlic, Lavender, Mustard, Nasturtium, Onions, Oregano, Potatoes, Rosemary, Sage, Southernwood, Sweet Alyssum, Tansy, Thyme, Wormwood.
- Agastache helps repel the white cabbage butterfly.
- Borage is said to deter tomato hornworms and cabbage worms and is also one of the best plants for attracting bees and wasps.
- Calendula is a trap crop that will attract any aphids the beneficial insects miss and give the pests a more enticing meal than the brassicas and lettuce.
- Celery improves Cabbage’s health and growth and helps repel the white cabbage butterfly.
- Chamomile has a strong aromatic scent and is an excellent companion plant for cabbage plants as it can improve their vigor and flavor. Another benefit is that the plant is host to hoverflies and wasps.
- Clover interspersed with cabbage plants can decrease the prevalence of cabbage worms and cabbage aphids by increasing the population of predatory ground beetles.
- Dill improves Cabbage’s health and growth. It also attracts hoverflies, lacewings, ladybugs, and parasitic wasps, which will help control the aphids and cabbage worms.
- Garlic planted near cabbage plants repels insects with its odor.
- The strong scent of lavender will mask the smell of cabbage plants and confuse pests like aphids.
- Nasturtiums deter insect pests such as the infamous beetles and aphids.
- Onions are beneficial because they will repel rabbits from your cabbage plants.
- Aromatic plants, including peppermint and rosemary, help repel cabbage flies.
- Sage repels cabbage moths and black flea beetles. If allowed to flower, it will also attract many beneficial insects – And the flowers are lovely.
- Tansy deters cabbage worms and cutworms.
- Thyme deters cabbage worms and helps repel the white cabbage butterfly.
- Southernwood and wormwood help repel the white cabbage butterfly.
- Sweet alyssum will attract hoverflies, lacewings, ladybugs, and parasitic wasps, which will help control the aphids and cabbage worms.
Do not plant Chinese Cabbage near Corn, Eggplants, Grapes, Lettuce, Peppers, Pole Beans, Rue, Strawberries, or Tomatoes.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.