Before we had the Internet to spread rumors and Snopes.com to refute them, it seems we had a St. Louis newspaper to thank for at least one scare and the Missouri Agricultural College to thank for setting us all straight.
From the November 11, 1904 Skidmore Standard:
More than a hundred letters have been received by the Missouri Agricultural College asking for information concerning the so-called “poisonous cabbage snake,” and the collection of snails, centipedes and other creeping things received from these inquirers would form the foundation for a splendid collection of Missouri’s lower animal life.
The most peculiar thing about this scare that has swept the state from one end to the other is that it has no foundation in fact. Professor J. M. Stedman, Entomologist of the College says, “Not a thing is found on cabbage that could not have been found any fall for the last twenty years.”
“And more than this,” he continues, “there is not an animal in the world that will poison cabbage so as to injure the person eating the cabbage alone or both cabbage and animal. The whole scare seems to have started from a fake report concocted by a correspondent of one of the St. Louis papers. Being hard pressed for news one day he wrote of a whole family that had come to a painful death from eating cabbage upon which a new reptile resembling a small snake was present in large numbers. Other papers copied the story. People read it and began to carefully scrutinize their cabbage patch and of course were rewarded by finding upon it bugs and worms that can be found any fall. The most common specimen I have received is a nematode worm, somewhat resembling a horse hair, that lives as a parasite in crickets and grasshoppers and is perfectly harmless. Not a single one of the seventy-five specimens I have received is at all injurious. This so-called cabbage snake is a myth pure and simple and people should cease bothering about it.”
There you have it, folks. It’s safe to eat your cabbage. Now, stop sending bugs to the university. The faculty and the mail carrier need a break.