Are Cabbage Worms Harmful To Humans?

Many newer diets involve an increased intake of raw, fresh foods. These include fruits and vegetables that are rich in nutrients and water content. Even though consuming raw vegetables provides the individual with all the necessary vitamins and minerals without diminishing during the cooking process, it may also be a source of different forms of pathogens and live pests entering the body.

Cabbage worms are often found nibbling away at the leaves of cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, and other greens. The questions are often asked – Are cabbage worms toxic to humans? Do they cause any harm to our body if accidentally consumed?

Cabbage worms, also called the Pieris Rapae, are completely harmless to accidental human consumption. At this stage, there are no studies or scientific research to prove that cabbage worms are dangerous to the human body. However, evidence suggests that eating contaminated fruit and vegetables poses a higher risk of acquiring parasitic infections than the mere cabbage worm.

The best approach to deal with cabbage worms is to take preventative and control measures to remove them from your vegetable garden. When harvesting, ensure that they’re thoroughly washed and cleaned before serving on the dinner table.

What are Cabbage Worms?

Cabbage worms were found in New Zealand, Australia, and North America almost a century ago after they were accidentally introduced. After its introduction, it rapidly spread through the continents and became known as one of the most common species affecting the plants.

The cabbage worms are usually white, with males having a distinct round black spot on the wings while females have two of these spots. These worms are generally found in the cabbage and other plants from the mustard family between the spring and late fall seasons. Several generations of these worms are found to exist at a time, and their numbers increase tremendously, which is why gardeners are recommended to keep a close lookout during the end of the season. This large quantity of cabbage worms can cause damage to the crops.

The replication of the cabbage worms occurs after the female cabbage worm lays her eggs in the crucifers. The vegetables that belong to the crucifer family include cabbage, mustard, broccoli, and kale. The female deposits her egg on the leaf’s underside where the larvae hatch. It takes almost three weeks for these eggs to hatch. When the larvae are growing up, they use the cruciferous plants as their main source of food, leading to many holes in the cabbage leaves. They may do this by running their heads into the leaves.

The Effect of Cabbage Worms on Humans

Studies have shown the increasing incidence of salad vegetables like cabbage contaminated with parasites, which may be consumed while eating in their raw form. One such study showed the overall prevalence to be more than 57%. The vegetables found to be the most contaminated with worms include cabbage, tomatoes, spring onions, and lettuce.

The properties of vegetables like cabbage that allow them to be more prone to worms like cabbage worms include their uneven surface, which facilitates the sticking of cabbage worm’s eggs and larvae. Compared to this, vegetables with smooth surfaces like carrots are less likely to contain worms or other parasitic entities.

The exact effects of the cabbage worm, or Pierris Rapae, on humans has been a topic of discussion amongst experts for many years.

A majority of experts agree on the cytotoxic effects of cabbage worms in human cancer cells, which has been proven in studies. One such study evaluated the effects of cabbage worms on human gastric carcinoma cells from the cell line known as TMK-1. Among all the worms species included in the study, the Pierris Rapae were found to be the most effective against the cancer cells.

How to Prevent Cabbage Worms?

One of the most effective ways to prevent cabbage worms associated with damage to the crops is by preventing the female cabbageworm from laying its eggs in the first place. Once the eggs are laid, they may not be easily removed from the plants because of their small size. As a result, an individual often realizes they have cabbage worms by the time hundreds of the worms have already replicated into the plant.

This can be done by covering the crops with a fabric or row covers. The fabric should be long enough, so at least 6 inches, it’s touching the group from every side. Although row cover fabrics are commercially available for this purpose, tulle may also be equally effective and much more economical.

Controlling Imported Cabbage Worms

Even though preventing cabbage worms from laying their eggs in the crops is the first priority, these worms should still be controlled if this is not possible. One of the ways by which this can be done is by covering the plant with row covers, even after sighting the worm. This may not prevent the eggs already on the leaves from hatching, but this can prevent further eggs from being laid.

The individual should also constantly check the plant for any cabbage worm-related damage, especially on the undersides of the leaves. Once the worm has been detected, it may be immediately killed using pesticides. There are many brands of pesticides available, which may be liquid bases or powder-based.

On the other hand, as a consumer of raw vegetables like cabbage, the individual should always try to wash the vegetables properly before storing them. Studies have found that washing the vegetables only once may not be enough. This is because washing the vegetables a second time has also been found to recover at least 42.2% of the parasites. This shows that even two washes are not enough to remove all the sources of parasites from the vegetables.

The effectiveness of Saline, phosphate-buffered Saline, and tap water for washing vegetables was investigated. The result showed Saline to have the greatest affectivity against parasites, which was 54%, while water was only 12% against parasites.

Image Credit

Cabbage worms by tumsasedgars

Plantician Guy (Mike)

Hi I'm Mike, a self-proclaimed plantician (an invented profession to describe a plant enthusiast). Based in Sydney Australia, I enjoy the great outdoors and the greenery things around the garden, in particular, indoor climbing plants.

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