When insect herbivores develop over many generations on the same plant species, their descendants may evolve physiological adaptations that enable them to develop more successfully on that plant species than naive conspecifics. Here, we compared development of wild and lab-reared caterpillars of the cabbage moth, Mamestra brassicae, on a cultivar of cabbage Brassica oleracea (cv. Cyrus) and on a wild plant species, sorrel, Rumex acetosa, on which the wild strain had been collected and reared for two earlier consecutive generations. The lab strain had been reared on the same cabbage cultivar for more than 20 years representing > 200 generations. Survival to adult did not vary with strain or plant species. Both strains, however, developed significantly faster when reared on R. acetosa than B. oleracea. Pupae from the field strain were larger when reared on B. oleracea than on R. acetosa, whereas the identity of the plant species did not matter for the lab strain. Our results show that long-term rearing history on cabbage had little or no effect on M. brassicae performance, suggesting that some generalist herbivores can readily exploit novel plants that may be chemically very different from those on which they have long been intimately associated.