Rampion - Forgotten, Rare, and Hardly Known Lettuce Greens - A Curious History of Vegetables: Aphrodisiacal and Healing Properties, Folk Tales, Garden Tips, and Recipes - Wolf D. Storl

A Curious History of Vegetables: Aphrodisiacal and Healing Properties, Folk Tales, Garden Tips, and Recipes - Wolf D. Storl (2016)

Forgotten, Rare, and Hardly Known Lettuce Greens

Rampion (Campanula rapunculus)

Family: Campanulaceae: bellflower family

Other Names: bellflower, Genevieve’s root,1 rover bellflower

Healing Properties:

TAKEN EXTERNALLY: cleanses and smooths skin

TAKEN INTERNALLY: stimulates appetite, cleanses system, soothes throat and tonsil inflammation

Symbolic Meaning: loyalty, atavistic primeval knowledge, wisdom and vitality of the earth, world of elves and dwarves; flowers associated with the ancient wise women and visionaries Veleda and Wala; quarrel (Italy)

Planetary Affiliation: Saturn

Rampion is a beautiful, blue-violet bellflower that blooms from June to August. Today it can be found across Europe—in dry pastures, at the edge of forests, and in the occasional flowerbed. It grows wild from Europe to Siberia and as far south as northern Africa. Though hardly anyone knows the plant anymore, it was once a desirable edible plant, found in most vegetable gardens well into the seventeenth century. It prevailed in Switzerland and Alsace into the twentieth century.

The plant has a thick, fleshy root about three inches long that can be harvested in fall, winter, or spring. The smaller roots can be added to salads. The larger roots can be eaten as a vegetable; they have a pleasant, sweetish flavor that some liken to walnut. In the fall rampion has small rosettes that look very much like lamb’s lettuce—they are often mistaken for one another. The young shoots that come in the spring can be prepared like asparagus.

Rampion symbolically partakes of the “blue flower” mystique of the Age of Romanticism. It is the far-away blue of heaven—of longing, loyalty, profound wisdom, and so on. In Christian iconology this mystical blue is symbolized by Virgin Mary’s blue cloak, full of golden stars. Of course, the color blue also relates to the American “blues,” the style of music that expresses the suffering and pain of millions of African slaves torn from their families and stripped of their culture.

In the Celtic-based British language of flowers bellflowers symbolize the “other world,” the world of elves and nature spirits. Whoever has entered that realm knows that bellflowers are not silent; like gentle silver bells, they ring in the nightly dance of the elves, as Cicely Mary Barker described in her 1923 book The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies:

They tinkle while the fairies play

with song and dance the whole night long

Till daybreak wakens, cold and gray,

and elfin music fades away.

Indeed, a fairy tale in Calabria, Italy, declares that whoever pulls a rampion plant out of the soil will find a doorway and steps leading to the realm of the fairies.

Illustration 104. Rampion, a popular edible plant in the Middle Ages (illustration by David Kandel, from Hieronymus Bock, Das Kreütterbuch. 1546)

Blue is also the color of the Saturn sphere, the border between the created world and the eternal world. The wise women and prophetesses of the old Germanics and Celts, who were known by the title “Wala” or “Veleda” [from the Proto-Celtic welet = seer, a derivative of the root wel = to see]), took seats on towers in order to see, while in trance, far into the other world—to get into contact with its deep wisdom. The radiant wisdom of these women, the very rays of the sun, was symbolized by long, flowing golden hair. The Rapunzel story, as mentioned earlier in relation to lamb’s lettuce, reflects this ancient imagery; indeed, rampion lent its name to Rapunzel. The goddess—in this case the young maiden Rapunzel, who is beautiful, full of light—lives in a tower, far removed from the earthly realm. As such Rapunzel represents both the archaic sun goddess imprisoned by the winter witch and a captive in the isolated puberty tower, into which young maidens were separated from their kin so elder women could initiate and educate them. Therefore rampion, the Rapunzel plant, represents not only the resplendent wisdom of the heavens but also, with its taproot, the earthly wisdom of the soil. The maiden needs this root, this connection to the fertile earth—she needed it when still in her mother’s womb. That is why, as the tale tells us, her pregnant mother could not resist the rapunculus plants growing in the sorceress’ garden next door,2 and why she enlisted her husband to steal some for her. Such was the unborn child’s undoing, for the angry sorceress demanded she be given the newborn in repayment; the witch later named her Rapunzel, after the plants for which she’d been exchanged. The sorceress plays an important part in the constellation: she knows the secrets of the earth, its vitality and strength. United harmoniously, heavenly wisdom and earthly strength allow the human being—ultimately a divine being—to fulfill all it needs to achieve. Such is what this bellflower plant symbolizes.

Illustration 105. The woman looked down into the garden, where luscious lamb’s lettuce Rampion grew (illustration by Otto Ubbelohde in Grimms Märchen, 1922)

Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566) categorized rampion as a beet; indeed, rapum is Latin for “beet.” He noted that the appetizing root can be eaten raw with salt and vinegar as a diuretic. When the root is mixed with wheat flour, ground lupine seeds, and ground corn cockle seeds, it makes an ideal skin cleanser.3 He also suggested that the plant juice gathered at harvest time and mixed with a woman’s breast milk is beneficial as an external tonic for eyesight. Incidentally, Native American healers have also used a rampion decoction as a rinse for painful eyes (Moerman 1999, 135). The sixteenth-century English herbal doctor John Gerard used a decoction of the root for sore throat and tonsillitis. And an old recipe recommends the distilled water of the whole plant for clear and smooth skin.

A few tips for gardeners: rampion has tiny seeds, like tobacco, which makes sowing difficult. It is best to mix them with sand at about a 20:1 sand:seed ratio in rows one and a half feet apart. The seeds should not be covered with soil, as they are light-dependent germinators. The vegetable can grow in a fairly shady place and must be kept moist. Be sure to repeatedly thin out the young plants so they don’t crowd each other. Plant out in May; the roots and rosettes will be ready for harvest in late fall.


Rampion Salad on Alfalfa Sprouts with Caraway Dressing ✵ 2 SERVINGS

1 cup (225 grams) rampion leaves and buds ✵ 1 cup (225 grams) alfalfa sprouts ✵ ¼ cup (60 milliliters) apple vinegar (or other fruit vinegar) ✵ ¾ cup (175 grams) hazelnut oil ✵ 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds ✵ sea salt ✵ pepper

Put the alfalfa sprouts in a serving bowl. Arrange the rampion leaves and buds over top. In a separate small bowl, mix the vinegar and hazelnut oil. Season with caraway powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Drizzle the dressing over the salad.

TIP: This salad pairs nicely with fresh olive bread.