Sunday, May 16, 2010

Harvest Monday - Something Creepy

Don't worry, it's not crawly but if you have ever tried to eradicate it then you may shiver when I say its name: Creeping Bellflower - Campanula Rapunculoides - otherwise known variously as Cancer-of-the-Garden, Hellcat Bellflower and Harebell*.

How often does your urban harvest fill your wheelbarrow...

An embarassingly short number of years ago, someone told me to stop pulling the weed from beneath my hedge as it was a pretty wildflower. I didn't recognize the basal leaves so I let it be and it matured into a not unattractive tower of purplish-blue bells. Shortly afterwards, I discovered its true identity and tried in vain to pull it up, but this ingenious invasive has a clever trick. Its taproot and future source of its spawn is connected to its many tangling runners by brittle thin roots. If you weren't familiar with its anatomy, you would pull up one its clones and find some weak roots dangling from it., no hunk a taproot like in a dandelion giving you a clue to its power source beneath. You might think that you had got it all. Ha! Not only does it propogate vegetatively but also by seed and its flowers are pretty enough that some people will leave it in their garden... perhaps feeling that this naturalized European native belongs here as much as the dandelion. Like the latter, it is here to stay and also like the latter, you can delight in devouring it.

You can see the tenuous connection between the taproot and the roots to the above ground part.

Creepy Bellflower is edible from its sizeable leaves to its starchy taproot(s).** If you like the taste, you might even have the incentive to hunt them down into the depths of soil. Before I tried the taproot, I was imagining how excited I'd be if my potatoes went feral like this. After I sauteed them with a little butter and drizzled them with paprika, salt and honey, my verdict is: "Meh, not bad. Good texture, slightly bitter, inoffensive taste." The typical description is more positive such as "nutty, crunchy flavour. A delight in salads" or as in A Field Guide to Edible Plants: Eastern and Central North America, "The taste is slightly sweet, suggesting parsnips."

The next day, I cooked up some of the plentiful greens, cut with an equal portion of baby kale, in stock and mixed with toasted sunflower seed and pepper. All this was put between two toasted slices of bread. They were pretty good, not bitter at all. Again, the adjective inoffensive comes to mind as they had no strong flavour.

So do I recommend Creepy Bellflower? Well, I wouldn't plant it. For those that already have it then just remember that like the proverbial pot of rice/oil/whatever, empty it as much as you want, there'll always be more and for a food plant, that's a quality we can appreciate.

* Also known as European Bellflower, Rampion Bellflower
** I have seen a couple references to eating the flowers but not enough that I would try it without more double checking.


Do I have Creeping Bellflower? Ministry of Agriculture of Ontario
Plants for a Future lists some edible Bellflowers
Oft mentioned on the web, true Rampion - Campanula rapunculus - is not the same plant as the above plant. Instead, it is a biennial with a radish tasting taproot (so I'm told, my seeds never germinated) that enticed Rapunzul's father to harvest either to help her mother in childbirth or for food. I've read both versions. (Some of you botanical latin geeks might find it interesting that 'loides' bit means 'is like').
For some fun, read Dave's Garden's page on the plant and hear some vitriol against it.


In other news, I owe you some posts:

Tomato Tuesday - Frost tender veggies that you know and love
Alliums Part II, Wild Onions - I haven't forgotten!


Anonymous said...

I have never heard about this plant or seen it, I don’t think we have it here...
It is very interesting that has edible roots.

michelle said...

I guess if you were hungry enough inoffensive might become delicious. :) But I bet potatoes would become boring if you couldn't rid them from you garden - potatoes, again?!

Very interesting post. That's one weed that doesn't seem to be a problem around here, at least that I'm aware of . . .

Stefaneener said...

Oh dear. I really dislike the weeds with numerous propagation options.

Daphne said...

I bought several campanulas to put into my garden when I first moved here 19 years ago. Well I think one of them was the plant you are talking about. I've been trying to eradicate it ever since. The problem is if you are really good one year you almost get it out (takes constant vigilance), but the seeds still come up for years afterwards. So you need to be vigilant for years and years to get rid of it. There is always some year I miss. So I still have it coming up. Oh how I hate that plant. Even if it is edible.

Ottawa Gardener said...

I've read that it is sometimes sold as Fairy Bells which is supposed to be a more well behaved bellflower. Mine came with the house, I think.

Vrt and Michelle: Lucky.

I was just at a client's place yesterday and found a large patch of them. I groaned as I thought I was done most of the work there. Not only that but they are have the honor of having the most impressively vigorous couch grass among those gardens I worked.

Leigh said...

Gosh OG, you scared me for a minute there. I'm sitting here with a packet of campanula ranunculus that I am about to sow.
This is an excellent heads up for me, though, because a year or so ago some c. **oides showed up in a perennial bed, and I though it was cute, so left it there. It's still limited enough that I think I can eradicate it (fingers crossed)... By the way, also avoid wood betony (stachys sylvatica, aka hedge woundwort), a real nasty leaping invasive (mint on steroids).
Thanks for the great info!

Ali said...

I have creepy bellflower, it came with the house and it is everywhere, I've been working on it for nearly 10 years. Of course, my neighbor allows it to grow and it continuously creeps in from there side after I've tried to dig all mine out. Argh. Now it is coming up through my hollies and the arborvitae hedge, two places that are next to impossible to dig it out. :-( I hate it so much I don't think I could ever bring myself to eat it!

Diane said...

I might just have to try eating it. It also came with my house and I thought the flowers were beautiful, so I spread seeds at the back of 2 flower beds. Yep, I've been trying to get rid of it in those beds ever since. I still think it's pretty, but I don't want it to kill everything else. Same goes for lily of the valley. Both of these are growing strongly in full sun, zone 5.