CABBAGE (Pers. kalam) Brassica oleracea L. vars. The word kalam (and its obsolete variant karam; see below) seems to be cognate with Greek krámbē, from which comes Arabic karanb/koronb (see Maimonides p. 92 n.; see also Kendī, p. 326 n. 262, where Levey refers also to Skt. karambhā on the authority of Löw, I, p. 482; see also Mayrhofer, Dictionary I, p. 165).

The common “garden-grown” (bostānī) varieties and races of cabbage are derived—through selection and cultivation—from the wild cabbage, Brassica oleracea L., which, according to Zargarī (I, 2nd ed., p. 156), grows “in central Iran around Isfahan.” The cabbage varieties most commonly grown and consumed nowadays in Persia are the following:

Kalam-e pīč (lit. kinky cabbage), the common head(ing) cabbage, B. oleracea var. capitata, sometimes also called kalam-e barg (lit. leaf cabbage; see, e.g., Ṭabāṭabāʾī, I, p. 485; but Zargarī, p. 153, reserves this name for the var. acephala). (When used without any complement, kalam refers to this variety, which is the most widely cultivated and consumed one.) The karam-­e rūmī (lit. Roman/Byzantine cabbage), one of the two varieties of karam the cultivation of which Abūnaṣrī Heravī (p. 144) describes for the Herat area in the early 10th/16th century, is probably this variety. Its main culinary uses nowadays include: kalam-polow (cabbage pilaf, with fried pieces of cabbage leaves, small meat­balls, and tomato sauce); dolma-ye kalam (stuffed cabbage leaves, hence the name kalam-e dolmaʾī “cab­bage for stuffing” sometimes given to this variety); āš-e kalam (formerly, karanbā, i.e., karam-bā [Jorjānī, p. 135], used in Hindi/Urdu, too; an āš, with pieces of cabbage leaves as main ingredient); in various western-style dishes, especially borš “borsch.”

Kalam(-e) qomrī, the kohlrabi, sometimes called kalam(-e) sang(ī) (stone cabbage, probably a calque of Azeri Turkish dāš-kalam), in Shiraz, kalam-e sar (head[-forming] cabbage). As already guessed by Majlesī (LXIII, p. 218), the word qomrī seems to be an alter­ation of Arabic qonnabīṭ/qannabīṭ itself from Greek kōnōpídi/kōnopída, etc. (see Maimonides, p. 92 n. 1; cf. Tonokābonī who gives qomrīt [p. 218, s.v. karanb] or qomrīd [p. 340, s.v. laʿūq-e karanb “cabbage linctus”] as the equivalent of Ar. karanb in the Persian dialect of Isfahan, and [p. 694] equates qonnabīṭ with kalam-e rūmī = kalam-e gerd “round cabbage”). The qonnabīṭ, however, has traditionally been taken for the cauliflower by many classical and modern authors (cf. its inaccurate description by Ebn Māsūya, apud Ebn al­-Bayṭār, pt. 4, pp. 57-61, s.v. karanb; among the mod­erns, see Ghaleb, s.vv.; qonnabīṭ/qarnabīṭ = the cauliflower, and koronb = both the drumhead cabbage and the kohlrabi). On the other hand, in addition to Majlesī, who seems to equate the qonnabīṭ with the qomrī, Mīrzā ʿAlī-Akbar, chef at the court of the Qajar Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah, stresses several times (pp. 13, 32, 44) that “kalam­-e qenbīṭ, [sic] is known as qomrī,” referring to the cauliflower as gol-e kalam and kalam-e gol (p. 66; see below). The kalam-e bīḵī (lit. “root cabbage”) men­tioned by Abūnaṣrī as the equivalent of Arabic karanb (p. 135), refers probably to the kohlrabi.

This variety has long been grown on a limited, local scale by most villagers, especially in Azerbaijan, Isfahan, Kermān, Shiraz, Arāk, Kurdistan, and around Tehran (Ṭabāṭabāʾī, I, p. 539). Its main culinary uses include: cut into small pieces, instead of cabbage leaves in āš-e kalam (see above), especially in Azerbaijan villages; instead of the same in kalam-polow and also together with lentils (ʿadas) in yaḵnī-e ʿadas-kalam, both mainly in Shiraz.

Kalam-e gol (flower cabbage), cauliflower (i.e., the plant). Seldom used in native Persian dishes, it was popularized after World War II due to increasing social contact between Iran and the West (Ṭabāṭabāʾī, I, p. 517). The main uses of the gol(-e) kalam, cauliflower, include: pickled in vinegar (toršī-e gol-e kalam) or in brine (especially as one of the ingredients of the popular maḵlūṭ (mixed vegetables); in Shiraz, a ḵᵛoreš (q.v.) is sometimes made with gol-e kalam. (Other varieties such as kalam-e ḡoṇčaʾī/fandoqī/tokmaʾī, Brussels sprouts, and kalam-e qermez, the red cabbage, introduced after World War II, are seldom used; see Ṭabāṭabāʾī, I, p. 532).

Historically, the medico-pharmacological authors of the Islamic period have mentioned or briefly described several species and/or varieties of karanb, which cannot be always identified with certitude because of inadequate descriptions or confusion in terminology, e.g.: (ʿAlī b. Moḥammad [?], apud Ebn al-Bayṭār, loc. cit.) karanb nabaṭī (Nabatean) = andalosī (Andalusian/Spanish), probably the common garden cabbage; šāmī (Syrian) = mawṣelī (from Mosul), most probably the rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica); qonnabīṭ/qannabīṭ originally probably the kohlrabi (but usually taken to be the cauliflower; see above); (“the author of al-Felāḥa” [?], quoted ibid.) karanb nabaṭī, which “is the well-known cabbage,” and ḵūzī (from Ḵūzestān); (Maimonides, p. 22, no. 184) karanb = baqlat al-anṣār, and karanb šāmī = qonnabīṭ; (Mowaffaq Heravī, naming five kinds without any explanation, p. 262, s.v. karanb) nabaṭī, barrī (wild), baḥrī (maritime), qonnabīṭ, and mawṣelī, for which Laufer (pp. 380-81) has provided the following unwarranted equivalents respectively: “Nabathaean, Brassica silvestris, B. marina, B. cypria, and Syrian from Mosul”; (Tonokābonī, pp. 715-16) bostānī (in­cluding the qonnabīṭ), barrī, and baḥrī (adapted from Dioscorides, Ar. tr. apud Ebn al-Bayṭār, loc. cit.); “the well-known variety (qesm) of [the bostānī] has a green beet-like rooṭ . . . , and Syrian, Hamadānī, Mawṣelī, and Andalosī subvarieties (aṣnāf), differing in form” (con­cerning the confusion about the identification of the barrī and baḥrī cabbages, see also Leclerc’s note, II, p. 159).

Many medicinal properties and uses have been attributed in the Islamic period to the leaves and, to a lesser extent, to the seeds of the karanb, most of which can be traced to the writings of the Greek masters Dioscorides, Galen, etc. ʿAlī b. Sahl Ṭabarī, author of the oldest known medical compendium in this period (comp. 236/850), has only the following brief statement about it (p. 379): “The karanb is hot, pungent, cleansing (ḡassāl). Anyone who eats the core of its qożbān (leafstalks?) will become capable of drinking [a lot of] wine. Cooking it with fat meat will reduce its harmful­ness.” On the contrary, Aḵawaynī (4th/10th century) has a lot of uses for the karanb, most of which seem to derive from his personal practice and experience. For example, he prescribes its juice in a gargle against croup (p. 308), in different poultices against “cold gout” and “cold pains in the joints” (p. 563), and against suppu­rating gastric ulcer (p. 354), in an emetic to throw up the phlegm collected in the stomach (p. 378), with spinach in a diet against ileus (p. 429), with bitter almond oil against the jaundice caused by the obstruction of the biliary duct (p. 467), in a linctus with honey in the treatment of tuberculosis (p. 340) and “phlegmatic cough” (p. 316). He uses karanb seeds in various plasters against pleurisy (p. 333), suppurating gastric ulcer (pp. 354-55), and renal calculi (p. 489).



Abū Manṣūr Mowaffaq Heravī, Ketāb al-abnīa ʿan ḥaqāʾeq al-adwīa, ed. A. Bahmanyār and Ḥ. Maḥbūbī Ardakānī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

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E. Ghaleb, Dictionnaire des sciences de la nature, 3 vols., Beirut, 1965-66.

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Abū Yūsof Yaʿqūb b. Esḥāq Kendī, The Medical Formulary or aqrābādhīn of al-Kindī; tr. with a study of its materia medica by M. Levey, Madison, 1966.

I. Löw, Die Flora der Juden, 4 vols., Vienna, 1924-34.

Maimonides (Ebn Maymūn), Šarḥ asmāʾ al-ʿoqqār, tr. and ed. M. Meyerhof, Cairo, 1940.

Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesī, Beḥār al-anwāṛ . . . LXIII, 2nd ed., Beirut, 1403/1983.

ʿAlī b. Sahl Rabban Ṭabarī, Ferdaws al-ḥekma, ed. M. L. Siddiqi, Berlin, 1928.

M. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Gīāh-šenāsī-e kārbordī . . . , I: Gīāhān-e zerāʿathā-ye bozorg, Tehran, 1365 Š./1986-87.

Moḥammad Moʾmen Ḥosaynī Tonokābonī (Ḥakīm Moʾmen), Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn (Toḥfa-ye Ḥakīm Moʾmen), Tehran, litho., 1277/1860 (repr. Tehran, 1338 Š./1959).

ʿA. Zargarī, Gīāhān-e dārūʾī, Tehran, 4th ed., I, 1366 Š./1987.

(Hūšang Aʿlam)

Originally Published: December 15, 1990

Last Updated: December 15, 1990

This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 6, pp. 603-604