Are Cabbage White Caterpillars Poisonous To Humans?

Here is a joke for you. What’s worse than finding a caterpillar in your steamed cabbage?

Finding half a caterpillar ????

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Cabbage white caterpillars are often spotted around brassica crops from late spring to autumn. It’s heartbreaking to see a potentially healthy harvest transform into a bunch of holed vegetables by the end of summer. It’s hard to let the entire harvest go to waste – after all, you’ve spent months tending to the plants. 

Naturally, you’ll want to salvage what the nasty pests have left and make do with the remnants. However, before eating the holed cabbages and other brassicas, you should thoroughly confirm whether cabbage white caterpillars are toxic. Are cabbage white caterpillars poisonous to humans? Continue reading to find out whether cabbage white caterpillars infested vegetables are safe for you, or are they better off being tossed in the trash?

What Are Cabbage White Caterpillars?

Before you can ascertain whether cabbage white caterpillars are poisonous to you, you need to understand what these bugs actually are and how to identify them. Cabbage white caterpillars are the larval stage of both large and small white butterflies. The small white butterfly is botanically named Pieris rapae, while the large white butterfly is the species Pieris brassicae. 

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You’ll find the caterpillars eating holes on the inner and outer leaves of your brassica crops. Caterpillars of small cabbage white butterflies can be more damaging since they bore all the way into the heart of cabbages, while those of the large white butterfly are often content with the outer leaves. 

Small white caterpillars are about 2.5 cm long and pale green in color. It’s easy to distinguish them from the large white caterpillars, which are yellow with black spots and around 4 cm long. Both varieties are prevalent across Europe. However, if you live anywhere in North America, Australia, or New Zealand, you’re most likely dealing with small cabbage white caterpillars.  

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Are Cabbage White Caterpillars Poisonous?

Are Cabbage White Caterpillars Poisonous To Humans

Whether it’s the small or large variety in question, one thing is for sure – caterpillars are far from palatable! While you wouldn’t eat cabbage white caterpillars out of choice, it’s not impossible to bite on one while enjoying your favorite homegrown harvests. Other than wanting to throw up, you may also be concerned if you’ve ingested something poisonous. 

There’s no reference that suggests that these bugs are toxic. However, you wouldn’t want to categorize them as edible either. In simple terms, you’ll want to avoid ingesting cabbage white caterpillars as far as possible. Make sure you wash the vegetables thoroughly after cutting them into pieces. Be especially careful when handling harvest that you know was infested by caterpillars. 

While they’re not poisonous, they’re not tasteful either. As they feed on the vegetable crops, the caterpillars accumulate distasteful oils in their bodies as a means of deterring predators, such as birds. These oils make their bodies foul-tasting, so the potential predators won’t be inclined to eat them. These oils may taste bad, but they are not toxic if you accidentally bite on a bug. If anything, you’ll be alarmed by the foul taste and be more careful eating cabbages in the future.  

How to Prevent Cabbage White Caterpillars?

Are Cabbage White Caterpillars Poisonous To Humans

Poisonous or not, you wouldn’t want any caterpillars making their way to your dinner table. Be especially careful about the food you serve if you have children in the house. Their digestive system is still developing so it’s best not to expose them to anything that’s less than nutritious. 

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The best option is to prevent cabbage white caterpillars from making their way into your vegetable garden in the first place. There are several pest control options that you can try. 

  • Use Butterfly Netting

If you spot any cabbage white butterflies near your vegetable garden, cover all the brassica crops with butterfly netting. Netting will keep the adult butterflies from laying eggs near your brassicas. However, even with the netting in place, your crops aren’t completely safe. Keep a close watch on the plants and handpick any caterpillars that you find around the area. 

  • Sacrificial Protection

Grow a sacrificial crop such as nasturtiums and handpick and move caterpillars from your brassica crops to the foliage of the nasturtium plants. Hopefully, the caterpillars will be content with nasturtiums and will leave your cabbages alone. 

The smell of garlic can drive the caterpillar population away from your plants. Steep cloves from two bulbs of garlic in boiling water and let it sit overnight before straining the mixture into a sprayer bottle. Spray this mixture on the plants, especially on the underside of the leaves, every 10 days to fight the infestation. 

What To Do If You Accidentally Eat A Cabbage White Caterpillar?

As we’ve already established that cabbage white caterpillars aren’t poisonous to humans, most likely, you won’t experience any symptoms. Even if it were toxic to some extent, it’s hardly possible that you’ll have any problems with such a small dose. After all, if you eat by accident, it’s unlikely that you’ll swallow more than one or two of those tiny creatures. 

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It may taste bitter and leave an appalling aftertaste, but that’s it. Most likely, a pest that small will just get digested along with everything else that you eat. Stomach acids can easily kill such tiny living things, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it. 


So are cabbage white caterpillars poisonous to humans? Now you know that there is no need to panic if you missed a caterpillar or two while washing your vegetables and accidentally swallowed it. Let it pass through your system this time but prevent such pests from harming your future harvests. 

1 thought on “Are Cabbage White Caterpillars Poisonous To Humans?”

  1. My mother moved a small cabbage white from inside to outside yesterday and got a stinging red rash, possibly an allergic reaction? We’re not sure. She used an antiseptic cream after bathing it but the rash persisted all evening and is still slightly present this morning. We are surprised at this and wondered if you have heard of anything like this before?


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