Rapunzel is a biennial, that will bloom in its second year
Wilhelm Grimm and Jacob Grimm, better known as The Brothers Grimm, collected German and European folk tales, giving us some of our most popular fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and the alarming story of a young girl who was used as currency to pay a sorceress because the girl’s father was caught stealing edible roots from the sorceress' garden. Those roots are of a vegetable once widely grown and now nearly extinct.
The parsnip-like or radish-like roots also gave us the name of the child, Rapunzel.
Rapunzel, the girl, was known for her long hair, while the vegetable Rapunzel (Campanula rapunculus) is known as a hardy vegetable plant that is entirely edible, leaves and roots. It was once grown throughout Europe for its leaves, which were eaten like spinach, and its white roots, which were eaten like a radish or turnip. It also is commonly called rampion or just “ramps.” Do not confuse these with North American wild onions, also called “ramps” (Allium tricoccum).
Rapunzel or rampion is mentioned by William Shakespeare. In Calabria, Italy, stories tell of a maiden who pulls up a Rapunzel plant and finds a staircase leading to a palace deep inside the earth. The tough plants have been cultivated since the 4th century BC.
This is certainly a plant that can do double duty as a vegetable and tall, two- to three-inch ornamental with panicles of nodding, bell-shaped, white or blue flowers in July and August. Each flower is one to two inches long. In the second year your flowers will bloom a bit later, from July to August.
Rapunzel grows best if you sow the seeds directly into the garden. Scatter the tiny seeds on the soil surface and gently press them down into the soil. You may want to mix the tiny seeds with fine sand and sow that lightly. Germination can be erratic. Lightly water the seedbed and keep it evenly moist, but not soggy. Once plants are a few inches high, thin them to stand six inches apart. Rapunzel is not fussy about soil and does fine in average, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. In the north, full sun is best but if your summers are hot, give them a bit of afternoon shade. You can also plant them under taller vegetables such as tomatoes.
Rapunzel is a biennial that will bloom and set seed in its second year. It is winter hardy in USDA Zones 4-8. The plants are self-fertile and will often self-seed.
Eat the sweet, delicate leaves raw in salads. You can also stir fry or steam the leaves like spinach and serve with butter or grated cheese.
The crunchy, white roots taste much like radishes. The leaves and roots have a slight woodsy taste.
Seeds are available from specialty seed houses such as Gourmet Seed International (online at www.gourmetseed.com), 743 Shore Road, Hollister, CA 95023-9427, phone 831-637-2411) or Seeds From Italy (www.growitalian.com, PO Box 3908, Lawrence, KS 66046, phone 785-748-0959).
Plant Rapunzel and you will enjoy fresh leaves for healthy salads. The crunchy roots are great to munch on along with a stout beer, especially when you just want to relax and, in Rapunzel style, let your hair down.