Broccoli: A Product of Horticultural Genius by Mira-Belle Haddad

The various kinds of Broccoli are in the family Brassicaceae also known as the mustard or cabbage family. It is classified in the cultivar group of the spices Brassica oleracea. It has large, dark green colored heads, that are structured like a tree a name offten given to them by children, with its thick stalk, lighter green. Broccoli greatly resemble cauliflower, which are different cultivar within the same Brassica species. Broccoli was bred from a cabbage relative by the Etruscans from the town now known as Tuscany, which historically has been the home of many horticultural geniuses. It has been considered very valuable by the Italians ever since the Roman Empire. When it was first introduced in England in mid 1800s, it was referred to as the “Italian asparagus.”

Tuscany Broccoli Farm

There are three types of Broccoli, the calabrese, sprouting, and the romanesco. Named after the Calabria in Italy, The calabrese is the better known variety, and what most of us think of as the typical broccoli. The sprouting broccoli, which could be both purple or white, has large heads but thin stalks. The purple sprouting broccoli more closely resembles the cauliflower (another cultivar Brassica oleracea), but does have tiny flower buds like the broccoli.  The romanesco broccoli resembles the cauliflower more as well, it consists of medium buds with each even smaller buds all structured together in a spiral.

Broccoli Romanesco with spiral heads (left), and purple sprouting broccoli (right)

Broccoli varieties not only vary structurally but also nutritionally, they are packed with vitamins, and are known to benefit the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, and the immune system, have anti-inflammatory properties, and cancer-preventing properties.  Broccoli is high in fiber, very high in vitamin C, and has potassium, B6, and vitamin A. Although it is a non-starchy vegetable, it still provides a good amount of protein.

The phytochemicals in broccoli are great for the immune system. They are chemicals that are responsible for the smell, flavor, and color of broccoli. They include glucobrassicin, carotenoids,  and kaempferol.  Broccoli is also packed with antioxidants, which are chemicals that can help with locating and neutralizing free radicals in the body that can cause cell damage.

Despite the overwhelming amount of nutrients and benefits of broccoli, it does not appeal to some people and therefore, some myths have been circulating about it. Broccolis are described as goitrogens, which are chemicals that work on suppressing the function of the thyroid gland, it does so by interfering with the iodine intake. Blocking iodine uptake will cause hormones in the thyroid glands to overpopulate and enlarge the glands, and the abnormality known as goiter can result. One group of goitrogens is the thiocyanates, which have the potential to cause hypothyroidism.

Despite the presence of goitrogens , broccoli would only have this negative effect on the body if the person already has very low iodine levels and eats several kilograms of broccoli in one day. Therefore, broccoli should indeed be eaten, due to its overwhelmingly positive nutiritional qualities. Broccolis help with lowering blood cholesterol. The soluble fibers in broccoli can bind to the cholesterol and therefore makes it easier to excrete the cholesterol and lowers blood cholesterol levels.

The leading broccoli-producing states are California, yielding 90 percent of the crop, and Arizona, Texas, and Oregon. Broccoli is also grown on a large scale in Italy, northern Europe, and the Far East. The United States is the world’s third-largest producer of broccoli. China is also one of the top producers, growing over 8 million tons of the vegetable per year.

Some of the pests that are associated with Broccoli variteites include cabbage worms, aphids, flea beetles, and cutworms. The cabbage worms are the larvae of moths and butterflies.  They cause serious damage by feeding on the leaves of the growing broccoli.  The young larvae can be easily controlled using insecticides that contain  Bacillus thuringiensis  ( bacteria used as a pesticide) or spinosad.  The Aphids are very tiny, and soft-bodied insects. They feed on the undersides of the broccoli leaves and cause them to become discolored and wrinkled.  They can be knocked off the leaves by using a strong spray of water from a hose. The Flea beetles are tiny and black insects that leave behind them an abundance of small holes in the foliage. Insecticides for flea beetles should do the trick.

Cutworms hurt the broccoli by cutting off the young seedlings at the ground level. They work at night. To prevent that, you can plant sturdy seedlings instead of seeds, and then you can wrap the area around the stem at soil level with cardboard or cloth-like “collar.”  Protect the plants by treating them with B. thuringiensis or spinosad sprays.

Common pests on Broccoli (top L-R Cutworms, Aphids, bottom Flea Beatle