Couve-Galega

Crop: Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala (Collard)

‘The Portuguese folknames used for the different morphotypes of ‘Couve-Galega’ are closely related to:

  • The place where they grow: ‘Couve de Horto’ or ‘Couve da Horta’ (=vegetable garden cole), ‘Horto’ or the equivalent ‘Hortus’ in Latin (=vegetable garden), ‘Couve Horteira’ (=cole of vegetable garden), and ‘Couve dos Quintais’ (=backyard cole);
  • The purpose of use: ‘Couve do/para Caldo Verde’ (cole for ‘Caldo Verde’ soup) and ‘Couve de Desfolhar’ (cole for leaf plucking);
  • The morphological characteristics: ‘Couve Verde’ or ‘Coivão’, the equivalent Latin and derivatives ‘Berza’, ‘Berqa’, ‘Verza’ or ‘Versa’ (=green cole), ‘Couve de Todo-o-Ano’ (=all-year-round cole) and ‘Couve Brava’ (=wild cole).
  • The socio-economic context where they are cultivated: ‘Couve Ratinha’ (=little mouse cole) is another folkname frequently used in the south provinces of Portugal, ‘Ribatejo’ and ‘Alto Alentejo’, derive from the name given to the wandering groups of land-labourers ‘ratinhos’ (=little mice) who came from the poor central inland regions of Portugal.

During the Middle Age, the consumption of vegetables was not very common among the rich classes. Fresh vegetables would be especially appreciated by the elements of the poorer classes. ‘Caldo verde’ soup potato broth and kale (‘Couve-Galega’) originated in the mid-15th century and the kale production started in the northern provinces of Portugal, specifically in the Minho region. Over the years, the recipe was adapted according to the regions in which it was prepared. It has turned into a traditional Portuguese dish much consumed during winter nights, in popular parties in Portugal and also in Brazil and others Lusophone countries. This type of kale is also used in a traditional recipe called ‘feijoada’.

‘Couve-Galega’ has a large variability. There are morphotypes, all with white petals, with smooth and curled leaves, leaves dark green to green or more or less waxy (blue gray green) and with various heights according to different juvenile periods and vernalization requirements. It has plenty of large leaves with long petioles, leaves can be curly or smooth, forming no head, and a long stem reaching over 1 m high at mature stage before bolting. Emission of leaves occurs during the last two years, as flowering needs vernalization. Fruitification only occurs in the second year. However, there are morphotypes of greater persistence called ‘kale of seven years’ which continue to form new lateral leaves. The shape of the plant is an inverted pyramid-dome or pyramid.

Cultivation System: low-input conditions.

Geographical Information

Country: Portugal

It is a metapopulation present across the country (mainland and islands). Until today ‘Couve-Galega’ is present in a large number of countries as a very important crop in the Portuguese horticulture, due to their excellent adaptation to prevalent climatic conditions and good integration into small farming traditional cropping systems.


Farmer(s) description:

The variability of ‘Couve-Galega’ is expressed by the date of flowering, if leaves are curly or not, and the number and length of internodes. Variability of this landrace depends on where it is grown, its environmental conditions and their effect on the growth cycle, but it is always cultivated in low-input conditions.

This landrace and all morphotypes, can be sown every month of the year. Sowing is usually done in seedbeds and the final location is chosen depending on the sowing season (summer/winter). Watering is manual. When planting, the soils should be rich in organic matter content and, in armed in bed. Planting should be with 0.4 and 0.4 to 0.7 m between plants, for better leaf development.

This landrace is still found in thousands of backyards and vegetable gardens in the center and in the northern part of the country. It, however, appears to be endangered, as it was only cultivated by older farmers, in small farms where the polyculture is the main characteristic. Each farmer inherited this landrace from his parents and has always multiplied his seeds without exchanging them. Its horticultural importance can only be translated by unquantified assertions such as: ‘Galega kale is an omnipresent cole in Portugal’... ‘if any Portuguese citizen can have at least a single square meter of backyard, he will immediately grow there several plants of Galega kales’.

The metapopulation of this landrace evolved in Portugal due to different selection pressures which differ in ecological adaptation, growing cycle, morphological characters (Dias et al., 1993, 1995) and disease resistance (Ferreira et al., 1993; Dias et al., 1993a). Portuguese kales were found to have higher levels of protein, Ca, and Mg, and glucosinolate content.


Propagation system: Seed, cross-pollination

Multiplication procedures and consequences on landrace diversity:

The care that growers had for selecting and isolating the plants for seed production has resulted in a high morphological variation within landraces making the identification of the prevalent morphotype a rather difficult task. As a consequence of the farmer selection procedures and of microenvironmental selective effects, the landrace appears to be structured as a metapopulation in which a substantial differentiation is maintained at the subpopulation level. An appropriate on-farm conservation of a structured landrace like ‘Couve-Galega’ requires that subpopulations be maintained on the farms from which they were originated.

Management plan existence:

The landrace management relies completely on farming activities within the area. Currently, no technical or scientific support is provided.

Added Values

Market - existing and novel:

Recently there has been research on this landrace mainly in terms of bioactive components, nutrition and postharvest conservation. In terms of food and gastronomy, it is often included in new trends in food and recipes but without due emphasis, i.e. it loses in comparison to other kales of Italian origin.

Others (e.g. commercial/geographical brands or special traits):

No, research, evaluation and valorisation of this genetic resource are required.


Due to the high quality of the product, local associations and other public and private agents have an increased perception of the value of this landrace which, together with a renewed interest in agriculture in Portugal, gives hope for its on-farm conservation in the near future.

The access to this landrace can be done through the national genebank (BPGV, INIAV I.P).

Case study provided by Instituto Nacional de Investigação Agrária e Veterinária (INIAV), Portugal.

  • Dias, J.S., 1992. Taxonomia das Couves Galaico-Portuguesas Utilizando Caracteres Morfológicos, Isoenzimas e RFLPs. Dissertação de Doutoramento. Universidade T6cnica de Lisboa, Lisboa. 181 p.
  • Dias, J.S., A.A. Monteiro & S. Kresovich, 1994. Genetic diversity and taxonomy of Portuguese tronchuda cabbage mad Galega kale landraces using isozyme analysis. Euphytica 75: 221-230.
  • Dias, J.S., M.B. Lima, K.M. Song, A.A. Monteiro, EH. Williams & T.C. Osborn, 1992. Molecular taxonomy of Portuguese tronchuda cabbage and kale landraces using nuclear RFLPs. Euphytica 58:221-229.
  • Dias, J.S., M.E. Ferreira & P.H. Williams, 1993a. Screening of Portuguese cole landraces (Brassica oleracea L.) with Peronospora parasitica and Plasmodiophora brassicae. Euphytica 67:135- 141.
  • Dias, João & A. Monteiro, A & B. Lima, M. 1993. Numerical taxonomy of Portuguese Tronchuda cabbage and Galega kale landraces using morphological characters Euphytica. 69. 51-68. 10.1007/BF00021725.
  • Dias, João. 1995. The Portuguese tronchuda cabbage and galega kale landraces: A historical review. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. 42. 179-194. 10.10 07/BF02539521
  • Ferreira, M.E., J.S. Dias, A. Mengistu & P.H. Williams, 1993. Screening of Portuguese coles landraces (Brassica oleracea L.) with Leptosphaeria maculans and Xanthomonas campestris pv. campestris. Euphytica 65:219-227