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Appreciating the Unappreciated: Why You Want to Make Cabbage Your Bosom Friend

By HERWriter
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Breast Pain related image Photo: Getty Images

Recently, in our farm share bundle, my roommates and I have been getting a lot of cabbage. Cabbage has gained a sad reputation of being somewhat unexciting. It is not colorful like swiss chard, spicy like radishes or convenient to pop into your briefcase and bring to work as a snack.

However, contrary to popular belief, cabbage is actually a tremendous source for a multitude of health benefits - what I would call a "vegetable superhero." From helping with digestive/constipation issues (due to its high fiber content) to aiding weight management (due to its low caloric count), and even to preventing scurvy and other vitamin C deficiency complications (cabbage has more vitamin C than oranges do), cabbage is a great addition to any diet. Below is a recipe that will help you introduce more cabbage into your diet, and it is anything but boring.

But before we get to this fantastic, healthy, mouth-watering recipe, cabbage doesn’t just provide dietary enrichment. It has another use that isn't as well-known in the official medical community, but is widely accepted by traditional healers, alternative and homeopathic providers, lactation consultants and midwives.

Believe it or not, for hundreds of years, women have used cabbage leaves to soothe the discomfort of breast engorgement. Care providers aren't sure if this is due to the shape of the cabbage leaves, their chemical makeup, or something else completely. However, centuries of experience and practical usage indicates that something about cabbage provides relief that is otherwise hard to come by.

Breast engorgement occurs when a woman’s milk is just coming in (roughly two to five days after giving birth, when milk is replacing colostrum) or when her normal breast-feeding routine is interrupted (either due to a baby’s inability to eat, trouble with nursing, or when solid foods are being introduced into the baby’s diet). It is normal for women’s breasts to feel somewhat swollen and heavy during these times, but severe engorgement is extremely painful. The breast becomes hard, shiny and warm to the touch, and oftentimes the nipple is flattened. Due to swelling, it is very difficult for the baby to latch onto the nipple, exacerbating the condition.

Without relief or treatment, severe engorgement can lead to blocked milk ducts and mastitis (breast infections). Luckily, these symptoms are not difficult to manage, and there are several simple ways to treat severe engorgement.

Cabbage compresses are an effective way to soothe the discomfort triggered by engorgement. According to La Leche League International website (a renown resource for breast-feeding information), you should “rinse the inner leaves of a head of cabbage, remove the hard vein, and crush with a rolling pin (or something similar)...Drape leaves directly over breasts, inside the bra. Change when the leaves become wilted, or every two hours.” Some women reported reduced milk production after using the compresses, so experts suggest discontinuing usage when the swelling goes down. Try the leaves refrigerated or at room temperature, and remove them quickly if you show any signs of allergy.

REMEMBER: While cabbage compresses are one proven method for alleviating symptoms, talk to your care provider or lactation consultant if you experience severe engorgement for an extended period of time.

If you aren’t sold on cabbage as a "vegetable superhero" yet, try the recipe below. It is a healthy twist on an easy and flavorful pasta dish that is great for hot days and large groups.

Spicy Peanut Sesame Cabbage


1 large head of cabbage, chopped
½ cup smooth peanut butter (reduced fat, if preferred)
¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped, peeled fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Sriracha or other spicy chili sauce

Combine all ingredients (except cabbage) in a bowl and beat with fork until smooth. Once evenly combined, add in chopped cabbage and stir until evenly coated.

Refrigerate and enjoy!

Making you feel good inside and out, perhaps cabbage should become your new favorite summer food friend - I know it’s certainly mine. Please share your own cabbage recipe suggestions below!

Sources and Resources:





Reviewed July 27, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle

Add a Comment2 Comments

I can attest to cabbage's ability to help with blocked ducts while breastfeeding. When a friend recommended it to me, I admit I thought it was an old wives' tale, but it's the only thing that worked for me. Thanks for sharing!

August 3, 2011 - 10:54pm
HERWriter (reply to Hillary Easom)

Thank YOU for validating! It sounds like a silly solution, but multiple highly respected sources recommend cabbage as a soothing remedy for breast engorgement and other complications of breastfeeding. It's great to hear the same from you!

Very best,

August 4, 2011 - 2:09am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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