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Campanula Rapunculus

Campanula Rapunculus, Flower, Herb, Or Vegetable?

If you are asked whether the Campanula rapunculus is a flower, an herb, or a vegetable, you stand a good chance of giving the correct answer, as this plant fits in all three categories. It is an attractive flower, its radish-like roots and leaves are edible, and one generally finds its seeds listed in herb catalogs. Most gardeners would probably guess a flower would be the right answer, as the genus Campanula is commonly known as the Bellflower. There are several hundred Campanula species that make up the Bellflower family (Campanulaceae), with most of the species being hardy perennial plants found either in the wild or in flower gardens.

The Campanula Family - The best known species of the Campanula family are the Campanula rotundifolia, the Bluebell of Scotland, and Campanula medium, a popular garden flower better known as Canterbury Bells.  Campanula rapunculus is a lesser known species, at least to those who tend flower gardens. Campanula rapunculus, which also goes by the name Rampion, is better known for its culinary uses, especially in the United Kingdom, and in Continental Europe from Denmark south, nearly to the Mediterranean Sea. In The Netherlands the plant is called the Rapunzelklokje, and in Germany, the Rapunzel-Glockenblume, both meaning the Rapunzel Bellflower. The Grimm's fairy tale Rapunzel takes its name from the plant.

Campanula rapunculus is a biennial. The long, radish like roots can be harvested the same year the seeds are sown, normally about 4 to 5 months after the seeds are first put into the ground. If the plant is allowed to remain in the ground, the familiar bell flowers will appear the next year, growing on 2 foot stems. The roots can be eaten raw or cooked. Eaten raw they taste somewhat like a radish, though are sweeter. The leaves are often used in salads. At one time the plant was widely grown in Europe as a commercial food item. That is not so much the case today, although it can still be found in the marketplace.

As A Flower -  We don't often plant biennials in our flower gardens. We either tend to want a plant that will flower the same year the seeds are sown, or a perennial. Since a wide variety of bellflower species exist both as annuals and perennials, it probably doesn't make too much sense to add Campanula rapunculus to the flower garden. As a flowering plant the blossoms are violet in color and quite attractive, looking like a bellflower should look.

Try It As A Vegetable - Growing it as a vegetable is another matter of course, and it may be worthwhile trying it at least once to see if it's as good tasting as many seem to think. It will grow in most sections of the country, being hardy in USDA Zone 3 through 9. The seeds are very tiny, so are not sown deeply, and are usually sown in the fall. Once the seedlings emerge, they should be thinned to about 4 inches apart to allow the roots to develop fully. The plant is grown much as if it were a large radish, and spaced accordingly. Some gardeners even recommend spacing the plants a foot apart, though that might be more appropriate if you are growing it for the blossoms rather than as a vegetable. Worth noting are several things. First, if the plant is allowed to go a second year and produce blooms, the seeds may be harvested from the dry seed pods for future planting. Second, if the seed pods are not removed from the plant it will self-seed quite freely, and could rapidly become invasive. Third, if planted in a climate where the summers are quite hot, there is a chance that Campanula rapunculus will behave like an annual, and go to seed the first year. If planted as a vegetable the roots should be harvested the first year while they are still tender. By the second year they tend to become tough, a bit woody, and not as good tasting.



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