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May 23, 2014 / Karen R Adams


cabbageThis is a re-post from 2012 because I’ve had a number of patients recently who either didn’t know about this, or who did know about it forgot to use it on recent injuries.  Everybody’s doing lots more outside things now, so keep a head in your refrigerator first aid kit. ~ k

If you’ve been a patient of mine for acupuncture in the last, oh, forever, you have no doubt been treated to a bunch of stories extolling the use of cabbage for pain management.  Last week I had a chance to prove to myself, yet again, how well this humble vegetable works as a healer.

I was having a truly wonderful walk, really enjoying it – nice fall day, smell of fallen leaves, body swinging along – when I encountered a fateful combination: broken pavement plus unraked leaves over same.  One minute I was grooving on my walk, the next minute I was twisting my ankle, feeling the pop of the overstretched tendon, and banging my other knee into the sidewalk.

If you’ve ever done this, you know that the shock and pain of it make you feel sick and light-headed.  So I rolled off my knees onto my back and just lay there, trying to catch my breath and not throw up, and thinking ‘thank heavens I have cabbage at home’.

I’ve sprained my ankle many, many times, and I knew if I could move my ankle (and my knee) enough to know it wasn’t broken, and get past the nausea, I could make it home.  Home, where I keep a head of cabbage in my fridge as part of my first aid kit.  Within half an hour I had wrapped ankle and knee in cabbage, and went on to work a five-hour shift in the clinic.  The next morning, the only sign that I had sprained my ankle was a slight puffiness.  No pain, no swelling, all better.

Cabbage is a home remedy that has been used for centuries as an external poultice to relieve pain.  Even the Reader’s Digest tells you how to put it to work, though they recommend Savoy cabbage, and I’ve used the plain, cheap green cabbage to great effect.  I once saw a reference to a Swiss hospital for people with rheumatoid arthritis where staff wrapped patients’ stricken joints every night before bed.

I’ve used cabbage for sprains, scalds, even once used it for a tooth abscess while waiting to see the dentist (worked great, btw).  This time I even put it on an open wound, and again, worked great.  I tell everyone about cabbage, encouraging people to wrap joints or muscles, or chop it up to make a poultice to put on sore shoulders or backs.  (Just put it between something like two thin tea towels.)  When I took my grandkids on their first camping trip this summer, I even brought some cabbage along in case of an unfortunate encounter with the campfire.

This is a beyond simple home remedy you can do for yourself.   Just take some leaves from the cabbage head (that you’ve been keeping in your refrigerator, just in case), cut out the stiff ribs if necessary, wrap them around the affected area, then wrap that with an ace bandage or something similar to hold it in place.  (I once used a sock to keep it over a scald on my palm.  The pain was gone in 15 minutes.)

It’s a bit trickier for shoulders and backs, but I expect you can figure that out – a snug shirt, lie on the poultice, something like that.  How long?  As long as it takes (won’t be long).  If it feels like it needs refreshing, throw away the – very cooked – cabbage and replace it.  You won’t have to do that too often.

The cold feels good, too, and it’s soooo much better for you than ice.  Chinese medicine practitioners know that ice simply constricts the area, which restricts healing, and can even drive the pathogens from the injury in.   I don’t know how cabbage works, must be something in the chemistry of the cabbage that draws things out and speeds recovery.  I really don’t care about the mechanics or physiology of it, I’m just thrilled that it does the job.

There, oh humble cabbage.  I’ve been promising you for months that I’d spread your word, and now I’ve done it.


Leave a Comment
  1. Kelly / Aug 15 2014 1:24 am

    Could you explain from a TCM perspective why cabbage works for sprains and strains? It doesn’t seem to make sense to me, as I would think it would be constricting, and reduce blood flow to the damaged muscle and tendon.

    Thanks in advance,


    • Karen R Adams / Aug 16 2014 6:47 am

      Hi Kelly – Good question. Cold cabbage will not constrict/reduce blood and Qi flow like ice does because it won’t ever be that cold. Plus, TCM energetically, cabbage is cooling, so it will reduce the Heat of an injury without inhibiting the factors necessary for healing.
      Thanks for asking!

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