I love movies, especially clever ones that make literary or botanical references. I feel like I’m in on a secret when I know something the average viewer may miss. I’ve watched Wallace and Gromit’s Curse of the Were-Rabbit about a hundred times. I’d like to tell you it’s just because I have kids, but I’ve got to admit that I watch it for me. There are so many innuendos that it can take multiple viewings to catch them all: brassicas are ravaged and melons neglected. All the layers make for something that is much more than a kid’s flick. One of my favorite inside jokes is wrapped up in the name of the female lead.
Lady Campanula is the local gentry and presides over the vegetable contest that knits the community together. She wears flower-themed dresses, each one with a ruff around the neck that makes her head look like a bell. Her body below is incredibly slender like a graceful stalk. At one point, they draw her as an almost literal embodiment of the bellflower, color and all, complete with hat. I giggled the first time I saw it because, of course, I knew that the bellflower was a plant in the campanula family. In the end, she is dressed like a large carrot, which is also reminiscent of the biannual bellflower root and how we use it as a vegetable.
Campanula rapunculus, also called rampion, is a wild member of the bellflower family in Europe. While it is lovely, it has also been long-known as a useful and delicious pot-herb. The whole family is safe to eat and everything, from root to flower, have been used in various recipes. All parts of the plant are used both raw or cooked. When steamed, the roots have a mild, nutty flavor.
Rampion is easily sown after the threat of frost has passed. It likes well-drained soil and frequent watering. Campanulas tend to be slender plants with mostly blue or white flowers. There are about 70 different genera and about 2,000 different species. Almost all of them ooze a milky juice when broken, just like you’d see in a lettuce.
Herbalist Madame Grieve tells us that John Gerard, a botanist from the 1500s, used the root for inflammations in the mouth and throat. It would indeed be helpful in this instance because of its high vitamin C content and the resulting boost to the immune system.
The irresistible nature of this vegetable features prominently in another well-known Grimm’s fairy tale: Rapunzel, which is another common name for C. rapunculus. It was this plant that a pregnant wife craved from the witch’s garden. The husband was in such fervor to provide the common vegetable for his beloved that he climbed over the gate not once but twice. The second time he was caught by the witch and had to strike up a bargain to pay for the delicacy with his newborn child. This, of course, would be the backstory for movies like Tangled and Into the Woods.
Imagine! Hiding in the borders and identified merely as a decorative flower is a vegetable that is so celebrated as to be featured in our historic medical texts while also figuring prominently in our most revered classic children’s literature.