If you’re looking for something natural and non-chemical to clear your sinuses, consider a mustard cabbage tsukemono (pickled vegetable). You’ll find that it is not only a pungent vegetable, but a tasty cabbage, as well.

Mustard cabbage is a popular vegetable that’s used in many dishes. Asians have different names for it: Japanese people call it karashina. Others refer to it as gai choi, or kai choy. In Japanese kitchens, it is commonly used in soups, stir-fries and for pickling.

Chinese people often use it for sweet sour cabbage dishes — they refer to it as shin choy. Mustard cabbage leaves are also used in place of nori (seaweed) sheets when making Korean-style maki (rolled) sushi.

The good thing about mustard cabbage is that it grows year-round. The plants are ready for harvesting when there are three to five leaves on the plant, or you can wait until the leaves are fully developed, though you should harvest the leaves before the plant shows signs of flowering.

A well-drained soil is recommended for planting. However, mustard cabbage can even be grown in volcanic rocks with some soil.

I would suggest that you add some kind of organic matter — something like 2 to 3 inches of well-decomposed organic matter; till the organic matter 6 to 8 inches deep. If you do container gardening, select a container that is at least 2 gallons so that your mustard cabbage plant can fully mature.

A preplant fertilizer such as 16-16-16, or an organic fertilizer such as Sustain or Crumbles, is recommended. Thereafter, another application of fertilizer such as 10-5-20 or even 21-0-0 can be applied.

Seeds can be planted directly into the ground in rows 2 feet apart. There should be about a foot and a half of space between each plant. Seeds can also be broadcasted and the plants later thinned out at the three- to five-leaf stage, or you can plant them in small containers such as peat pots. When they reach the three- to five-leaf stage, transplant them in your garden.

The “Waianae” variety of mustard cabbage has been a popular variety for the last 50 years. Although it tolerates heat well, it is susceptible to white rust fungi, which is a fungal disease affecting the leaves, resulting in white flecks under the leaves.

More recently, a variety resistant to white rust fungi, called “Hirayama,” has been available from the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources seed laboratory. Other varieties, although unnamed, can also be grown. However, they may not have all of the desirable characteristics as the named varieties. Varieties available at seed sources, such as Gai Choi and Small Gai Choi, can also be grown.

White rust is the main fungal disease that affects mustard cabbage. I would advise that you plant tolerant varieties. If you plant a variety susceptible to white rust, you should mulch the soil surface with newspaper to minimize fungal spores from affecting the undersides of the leaves. Also, avoid overhead watering; instead, water by soaking the ground down to the root system, one to two times a week or more frequently during the hot, dry season.

Another pest that can become a serious problem is cabbage webworm, which feeds on the terminal growth area of the plant. You should check your plants daily for it. In large plantings, bacillus thuringiensis, a microbial spray pesticide to control caterpillars, certain types of beetles and other insects, can be applied to control the webworm.

Leaf miners are a relatively minor pest problem that can be controlled by removing the affected leaves.

After harvesting the mustard cabbage at the desired stage, the harvested plant can be turned upside down and left in the field for a few hours. The harvested plant will wilt, thus minimizing leaf damage when transporting and/or storing it. Refrigeration and applying water to the leaves will quickly revive the leaves.

Back in the day, the harvested mustard cabbages were packed in wire-bound wooden crates. These days, however, they are packed in cardboard boxes.

The following is the late Satsuki Sato’s easy-to-make mustard cabbage tsukemono recipe:

Thoroughly rinse two large mustard cabbage plants. Lightly sprinkle about half a handful of Hawaiian salt on the wet leaves and lay them in a big bowl. Cover the leaves with a flat plate weighted down with a round, flat, heavy beach rock for three to four days or until your liking.

H. Dale Sato has worked in the field of horticulture for over 50 years. As a teenager, he operated his family farm in Pähoa on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Sato retired from a 30-year career as an extension educator with the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, but remains involved in horticultural research and educational activities.


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