Shetland cabbage

Crop: Brassica oleracea L. subsp. capitata (Cabbage)

Shetland kale is the oldest known Scottish landrace vegetable and has been grown on Shetland since the 17th century (Fenton, 2007). In 2009 there were around 50 growers reported to be left on Shetland (Veteläinen et al., 2009). Traditionally seeds would have been planted in small stone wall enclosures to protect seedlings from extreme weather on mainland Shetland and the surrounding islands. Once seedlings had grown, they could then be moved to larger yards, also usually protected by stone walls (Slow Food in the UK, 2019). Areas of cultivations are generally quite small. Seed is not commercially available is stocks are maintained by growers saving seed year on year.

Cultivation System: ND.

Geographical Information

Country: United Kingdom

Shetland cabbage was originally grown on the archipelago of Shetland, Scotland. The majority of growers are still located on Shetland, but there is also a small handful of growers on Orkney and across the Outer Hebrides. Areas of cultivation for this landrace is generally small, with many maintainers growing it in small areas of their gardens for personal consumption.


Farmer(s) description:

Shetland kale is well adapted to the weather conditions on Shetland which are often harsh. It is often grown for consumption on farm, and also for winter feed for cattle. Growers save seed each year to continue cultivation the next year. Seed is not commercially available, but should a crop fail seed is sometimes swapped between growers.

The landrace has seen a sharp decline both in number of growers and area of cultivation in recent years. Growing and seed saving of Shetland kale require a level of personal interest in the crop which appears to be declining.

Some of the main constraint when cultivating Shetland kale are bacterial rot, fungal diseases, and proneness to nutrient deficiencies due to high nutrient requirements (Becker and Bjorkmann, 2019).


Propagation system: Seed, cross-pollination

Multiplication procedures and consequences on landrace diversity:

Shetland kale seed is not commercially available, so seed is gained by maintainers saving seed each year. Seeds are sown in the spring and plants are started in protected locations then transplanted to where they will be grown and harvested. The plant may yield all year round if harvested in small amounts for personal consumption. If the crop fails and maintainers have participated in SASA’s Scottish Landrace Protection Scheme, they may have submitted seed from previous years. In this case they can request their seed back from SASA. It will be their own seed and so locally adapted to their land.

Management plan existence:

Shetland kale management relies largely on those continuing to cultivate this landrace on Shetland. There is support from SASA’s Scottish Landrace Protection Scheme, though only if the maintainers choose to take part.

Added Values

Market - existing and novel:

Shetland kale is mostly grown for on-farm consumption, or for over wintering feed for cattle or other livestock. It has gained some interest as an interesting and traditional crop sue to the Slow Food movement, so there is some suggestion of a market for Shetland kale for general consumption.

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

Shetland kale has caught the attention of the ‘Slow Food’ movement in the UK (Slow Food in the UK, 2019). Kale is commonly viewed as a ‘superfood’ (Šamec, Urlić and Salopek-Sondi, 2018).


This landrace is protected under SASA’s Scottish Landrace Protection Scheme. It holds around 50 accessions of Shetland kale seed (Sasa.gov.uk, 2019).

Shetland kale was once widely grown on Shetland, but interest in maintaining it has declined. It is possible that renewed interest from the UK Slow Food movement will give hope for future conservation of this landrace.

Unknown. For more information or for access SASA should be contacted.

Case study provided by University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.

  • Becker, Robert F.; Bjorkmann, Thomas. ‘Nonpathogenic Disorders of Cabbage’. Vegetable MD Online. Cornell University: Department of Plant Pathology. [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].
  • Fenton, A. (2007) The food of the Scots: Scottish Life and Society: a compendium of Scottish ethnology, Edinburgh: John Donald.
  • Orgeron II, R., Corbin, A. and Scott, B. (2016). Sauerkraut: A Probiotic Superfood. Functional Foods in Health and Disease, 6(8), p.536.
  • Šamec, D., Urlić, B. and Salopek-Sondi, B. (2018). Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) as a superfood: Review of the scientific evidence behind the statement. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 59(15), pp.2411-2422.
  • Sasa.gov.uk. (2019). Shetland Cabbage | SASA (Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture). [online] Available at: https://www.sasa.gov.uk/variety-testing/scottish-landraces/scottish-landrace-protection-scheme-slps/shetland-cabbage [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
  • Slow Food in the UK. (2019). Shetland Cabbage - Slow Food in the UK. [online] Available at: https://www.slowfood.org.uk/ff-products/shetland-cabbage/ [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].
  • Veteläinen, M., Negri, V. and Maxted, N. (2009). European Landraces: On-farm Conservation, Management and Use. Pp. 233-242
  • Web.archive.org (2019)’USDA database table for raw cabbage per 100 g’. US Department of Agriculture, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, version SR-27. 2014. [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019]