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Brussel sprouts

Category: Food



Introduction and description


The Brussels sprout is a member of the Gemmifera Group of cabbages (Brassica oleracea).  In other words it is a Brassica.

It is grown for its edible buds, which have a sweet nutty taste.  Picked fresh and quickly boiled, they are delicious on their own, especially with white meat such as turkey and chicken, however, they can also be used in Winter salads with bacon and chestnuts [and a brown sugar or honey, bacon fat and cider vinegar dressing].

The leafy green vegetables are typically 2.5–4 cm (0.98–1.6 in) in diameter and look like miniature cabbages. They are best when they are still closed and not 'blown', however, whatever their state they are edible and tasty.

In Continental Europe, the largest commercial producers are the Netherlands, at 82,000 metric tons, and Germany, at 10,000 tons.



Brussels sprouts are a cultivar group of the same species as cabbage, in the same family as collard greens, broccoli, kale, and kohlrabi; they are cruciferous (they belong to the Brassicaceae family; old name Cruciferae).

Many cultivars are available, some being purple in colour, such as 'Ruby Crunch' or 'Red Bull'.  The edible sprouts grow like buds in helical patterns along the side of long, thick stalks of about 60 to 120 cm (24 to 47 in) in height, maturing over several weeks from the lower to the upper part of the stalk.  Dwarf varieties are also available, which are exceptionally useful in very windy areas, as in high winds the plant – which is top heavy – can get knocked over unless you stake them.


Brussels sprouts grow in temperature ranges of 7–24 °C (45–75 °F), with highest yields at 15–18 °C (59–64 °F). The sprouts are usually ready for harvest about 90 to 180 days after planting.

Harvest season in temperate zones of the northern latitudes is September to March, making Brussels sprout a traditional winter stock vegetable. In the home garden, harvest can be delayed as quality does not suffer from frosts, in fact, sprouts are considered to be sweetest after a frost.

Above:  Whitefly


Although the cabbage white butterfly is a pest of Brussel sprouts, one of the worst pests, if you are unlucky enough to get it into your vegetable patch, is the whitefly, a pest of various Brassica crops.  They are actually beautiful little insects, but the damage they and their larvae do is considerable.  

  • Firstly, they secrete large amounts of honeydew [of which more shortly] that supports a fungal disease called sooty mould.
  • Secondly, they inject saliva that may harm the plant
  • Thirdly, they transmit viruses that cause disease in plants.
The ethereally beautiful lacewing - the gardener's friend

Several predators and parasitoids feed on whitefly and whitefly larva but the two that used to be most common were the green lacewing and the ladybird. 

At one time both were common.  In the days before the use of insecticides and pesticides by farmers, gardens used to be full of ladybirds and lacewings.  We used to have many come into the house to seek shelter in the winter.  No more.

Green lacewing larvae have voracious appetites, so will attack whiteflies, as well as other pests, including aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, leafhopper larvae, moth eggs, scales, and thrips. They can also attack other insects, including caterpillars. As such they are truly a gardener’s best friend, if they hadn’t been wiped out by the ‘cleverness’ of the factory farmer.

ladybird, ladybird fly away home ; the farmer is spraying soon all will be gone

Theoretically, they are available as eggs from commercial insectaries, and will stay in a larval stage after they hatch for one to three weeks. But what is the point of continually buying baby lacewings, to see the adult ones killed by the farming community? 

You can encourage those lacewings that hatch to stay, by providing a host of pollen and nectar producing flowers.  The adult insects feed only on pollen, honey, and nectar to reproduce. You need to know which flowers are best as some experiments have shown that Maize (Zea mays) pollen is so nutritious that the lacewings may lay their eggs on the corn instead of the brassicas.  The larvae of the green lacewing, for example,  Chrysoperla carnea (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae) is capable of eating whitefly larvae and pollen – or as it says in the research papers “can be used by predatory arthropods to supplement or replace a carnivorous diet”.

Ideas for companion planting, a mixed flower and vegetable

Sage, Rosemary, Hyssop, Thyme, Mint, and interestingly Nasturtium have traditionally all been used with some success as food for adult lacewings.

Lacewing eggs are eaten before they hatch by their natural predators, ants.  This is why the whitefly produce the honeydew – it attracts the ants, which then eat the whitefly enemy the lacewing larvae, so an obvious step is to lure the ants elsewhere, with equally delectable syrups – well away from your brassicas.

Ladybirds eat mostly insect eggs, but will also feed on beetle larvae, aphids, scale insects, and young caterpillars. A ladybird is a flighty curious little insect and whatever inducement you offer will not stay in one place.  They live for about a year and will continuously lay eggs and reproduce, but once they leave the safety of your garden – well the farmers are out to get them.

Nutrients and medicinal uses


The full chemical analysis from Dr Duke’s Phytochemical database is provided as an observation.  In the table below we have summarised and reordered this activity, showing the minerals, vitamins and so on, concentrating on the leafy parts. Brussel sprouts are a good source of fibre [Leaf 15,100 - 107,814 ppm] and a good source of PHYTOSTEROLS [Leaf 240 - 1,710 ppm].

According to Wikipedia – whose data is based on the USDA Nutrients database - Brussel sprouts are a good source of Vitamin K [phylloquinone].  Dr Duke’s analysis does not have this information. 

Raw Brussels sprouts contain excellent levels of vitamin C , with more moderate amounts of B vitamins.  It is rich in minerals.

Brussels sprouts, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contain sulforaphane, a phytochemical under basic research for its potential anticancer properties. This is not shown in the chart below.  Although boiling reduces the level of sulforaphane, steaming and stir frying do not result in significant loss.

With the properties of efficacy, safety, tolerability, practicability and low cost, foods containing bioactive phytochemicals are gaining significant attention as elements of chemoprevention strategies against cancer. Sulforaphane [1-isothiocyanato-4-(methylsulfinyl)butane], a naturally occurring isothiocyanate produced by cruciferous vegetables .., is found to be a highly promising chemoprevention agent against not only a variety of cancers such as breast, prostate, colon, skin, lung, stomach or bladder, but also cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and diabetes. PMID:  26970133

Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera var. gemmifera DC (Brassicaceae) -- Brussel-Sprout, Brussels-Sprouts


ALPHA-TOCOPHEROL Leaf 4 - 63 ppm [α-Tocopherol is a form of VITAMIN E that is preferentially absorbed and accumulated in humans]

ASCORBIC-ACID Leaf 720 - 6,069 ppm [VITAMIN C]

BETA-CAROTENE Leaf 5 - 41 ppm [β-carotene is a precursor to VITAMIN A]

FOLACIN Leaf 0.56 - 4 ppm Folic acid, also known as folate, is one of the B vitamins

NIACIN Leaf 6 - 64 ppm [VITAMIN B3]

PANTOTHENIC-ACID Leaf 3.1 - 22 ppm  [VITAMIN B5]

RIBOFLAVIN Leaf 0.4 - 10 ppm [VITAMIN B2]

THIAMIN Leaf 1.3 - 11 ppm [VITAMIN B1]

VITAMIN B-6 Leaf 2.2 - 16 ppm



BORON Leaf 57 ppm;

CALCIUM Leaf 395 - 3,177 ppm

COPPER Leaf 1 - 5 ppm

IRON Leaf 9 - 136 ppm

MAGNESIUM Leaf 230 - 1,642 ppm

MANGANESE Leaf 3 - 24 ppm

MOLYBDENUM Leaf 0.9 ppm;

POTASSIUM Leaf 3,670 - 29,343 ppm

PHOSPHORUS Leaf 690 - 4,927 ppm

SELENIUM Leaf 0.024 ppm;

SODIUM Leaf 221 - 1,990 ppm

SULPHUR - According to Wikipedia sprouts contain  glucosinolate sinigrin, an organic compound that contains sulphur.

ZINC Leaf 10 - 157 ppm



ALPHA-LINOLENIC-ACID Leaf 990 - 7,069 ppm

LINOLEIC-ACID Leaf 450 - 3,213 ppm

ARACHIDONIC-ACID Leaf 10 - 71 ppm -  is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid.  It is one of the most abundant fatty acids in the brain and promotes the repair and growth of skeletal muscle tissue

OLEIC-ACID Leaf 190 - 1,357 ppm is a fatty acid that occurs naturally in various animal and vegetable fats and oils.  Eaten, it is said to be good for skin conditions – alopecia and Dermatitis.

PALMITIC-ACID Leaf 530 - 3,784 ppm is the most common fatty acid (saturated) found in animals, plants and microorganisms. It too is said to help with skin problems when eaten – notably alopecia

PALMITOLEIC-ACID Leaf 20 - 142 ppm - is an omega-7 monounsaturated fatty acid “it has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity by suppressing inflammation, as well as inhibit the destruction of insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells” [PMID 21774832]



ARGININE Leaf 2,030 - 14,494 ppm

CYSTINE Leaf 220 - 1,571 ppm

HISTIDINE Leaf 760 - 5,426 ppm

ISOLEUCINE Leaf 1,320 - 9,425 ppm

LEUCINE Leaf 1,520 - 10,853 ppm

LYSINE Leaf 1,540 - 10,996 ppm

METHIONINE Leaf 320 - 2,285 ppm

PHENYLALANINE Leaf 980 - 6,997 ppm

THREONINE Leaf 1,200 - 8,568 ppm

TRYPTOPHAN Leaf 370 - 2,642 ppm

VALINE Leaf 1,550 - 11,067 ppm  



 CAFFEIC-ACID Leaf 34 ppm –is a key intermediate in the biosynthesis of lignin. It is an antioxidant, has anti-inflammatory activity and is a major natural fungicide.  In addition to this it has Antiviral [Antiadenoviral, Antiflu, Antiherpetic, AntiHIV, Antivaccinia] ; and Antibacterial; [Antiescherichic , AntiLegionella , Antistaphylococcic ] activity and is a Metal-Chelator

CITRIC-ACID Leaf: which is Antibacterial ; Antileishmanic; and Antitubercular

FERULIC-ACID Leaf 10 ppm - like many natural phenols, is an antioxidant and is said to have anticancer and antitumour activity.  Much of its activity may come from the fact it is a Metal-Chelator; a natural fungicide [including Candidicide]; an Antibacterial and an Antiviral [Antiherpetic]

FUMARIC-ACID Leaf: Has long been known to help with psoriasis.  On addition “In patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, dimethyl fumarate (BG-12, Biogen) significantly reduced relapse and disability progression in a phase 3 trial. It activates the Nrf2 antioxidant response pathway, the primary cellular defense against the cytotoxic effects of oxidative stress”[ PMID 22992073]

MALIC-ACID Leaf: is  Antibacterial; Antifibromyalgic and Antiseborrheic – in other words it helps with ‘liver spots’.

P-COUMARIC-ACID Leaf 12 ppm;  - p-coumaric acid is a major component of lignin.  It is Antibacterial and a natural Fungicide.  p-Coumaric acid has antioxidant properties and is believed to reduce the risk of stomach cancer [PMID 15841493]

QUERCETIN Sprout Seedling 25 ppm; is a flavonol.  Dr Duke has a very very long list of activities for this chemical, incapable of being summarised.  It is however:

  • Antibacterial [Antiescherichic , Antistreptococcic]
  • Antiviral [Antiflu , Antiherpetic , AntiHIV , Antipolio, HIV-RT-Inhibitor
  • Antiparasitic [Antileishmanic , Antiplasmodial ; Antitrypanosomic , Plasmodicide]
  • Antifungal [Candidicide,  Fungicide]
  • Metal chelator [including a Copper-Chelator]

 QUINIC-ACID Leaf: said to be a Choleretic - a substance that increases the volume of secretion of bile from the liver as well as the amount of solids secreted.

SINAPIC-ACID Leaf 107 ppm; and antioxidant, Antibacterial and Fungicide

SUCCINIC-ACID Leaf: Succinic acid is an essential biosynthetic intermediate that occurs in all living creatures and is an intermediate in the citric acid cycle

TRIACONTAN-1-OL Leaf: is said by Dr Duke to be “Hormonal



For each sprout, take off any loose surface leaves.  A cut in the bottom of the stalk is said to help with even cooking, meaning you don’t have to cook them as long.  They can be boiled, steamed or stir fried.

Despite all the jokes about starting the cooking of your Christmas Brussel sprouts in August, they actually take only about 7-10 minutes when boiled, depending on size, smaller sprouts take even less cooking.

Common toppings or additions for Brussels sprouts include Parmesan cheese and butter, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, bacon, pistachios, toasted pine nuts, mustard, brown sugar, and pepper.

We have decided not to provide numerous recipes for brussel sprouts.  They are a nutritious, nutty, delicious vegetable that in reality needs no adornment.  Again, despite the jokes, most children we know love them as they are - with maybe a bit of butter on the top.

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