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Can you eat Rapunzel?

Once upon a time! “Long ago, there lived a kind man and his wife. They most of all desired to have a child, and one day the woman told her husband that they would have a baby. The family’s house stood next to a high wall surrounding the beautiful garden of an evil witch. The woman sometimes admired the beautiful flowers and magical herbs that the witch grew. She particularly wanted to taste the herb called rapunzel, so her husband dared to steal and entered the witch’s garden. However, he got caught, and in repayment for the stolen rapunzel, he promised the witch their future child. A girl was born, named Rapunzel, and they gave her to the witch.”

What happened to the girl next, anyone interested can read in the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale of the same name or watch the Disney animated film based on this tale.

An unusual salad that grew in the witch’s garden from the tale of Princess Rapunzel has now become very popular in different countries around the world. It turns out that even in the times of the Grimm Brothers, this plant was quite popular and grew everywhere, and its roots are deeply rooted in folk tales and legends.

Considering the enormous amount of vitamins and beneficial substances contained in this unusual plant, as well as the interest of health-conscious individuals in this salad, EastFruit shares interesting facts about this niche healthy product with you.

Rapunzel is the German name for lamb’s lettuce. In fact, it is the ancient folk name for not one, but three different plants, the roots and leaves of which are edible!

It is also interesting that the word “rapunzel” itself is derived from the Latin word “rapa,” which means “turnip.” For example, the botanist Leonhart Fuchs classified rapunzel as a turnip! He pointed out that the rapunzel root, dressed with wine vinegar and salt, stimulates the appetite.

In the world, three main different types of rapunzel are distinguished!

Under the name “rapunzel,” different plants are understood in different countries.

So, the first plant that EastFruit will consider is the bellflower rapunzel (common bellflower).

Its scientific name is Campanula rapunculus from the Campanulaceae family. The genus Campanula includes over 500 species of so-called “bellflowers.” Many, if not most, of these species have edible flowers, leaves, and roots. The main distinctive feature of this bellflower from other species is its thick, fleshy, spindle-shaped root, which exudes milky sap when damaged. This species is native to Southwest Asia, Central Europe, and North Africa.

Its roots are consumed like radishes, leaves are used as salad, and young flower stems are used like spinach. In Switzerland and Germany, bellflower rapunzel remains an essential ingredient in culinary dishes.

Remember the riddle “a maiden in a dungeon, hair in the street”? It is usually associated with carrots, but parsley, parsnip, and… yes, Rapunzel from the fairy tale also fit. Her hair from the tower window reached the ground.

The history of bellflower rapunzel holds many interesting facts! For instance, the first church bell, calling Christians to service, appeared in Italy in the year 1500. It was cast in the shape of a bellflower. This idea came to one of the bishops during a walk. Enjoying nature and the wonderful bell-shaped flowers, he leaned towards them, a gentle breeze blew, and the bishop heard a faint ringing. Upon returning from the walk, he ordered a bell made of brass, resembling the remarkable flower, and placed it atop the cathedral. It is quite possible that the prototype of the church bell was indeed the bellflower rapunzel.

How to grow bellflower rapunzel

This biennial plant forms a rosette of leaves and a fleshy, turnip-like root in the first year. In the wild, it is found throughout Europe, not rising above 1000 meters above sea level, in dry meadows, road edges, forest clearings, and even as a decorative plant in gardens.

During the flowering period, bellflower rapunzel reaches a height of 40-70 cm, and in the first year of its life, it forms only a rosette with a height not exceeding 20 cm. The rosette leaves are elongated-round, but as they move up the flower stem, they become lanceolate. The flowers are arranged on a branched flower stem. Externally, they are quite typical classic blue bellflowers, although forms with white coloring are sometimes found in gardens. It blooms, depending on the growing area, from June to August. The seeds are small and brown.

Rapunzel is an undemanding plant but prefers sunlight and loose soil. Brown seeds are sown either in early spring or in June for seedlings, to be transplanted to a permanent place in August or overwintered. Since the seeds are very small, they are mixed with sand (1:1) before sowing to evenly distribute them in the soil. Then, a little soil is sprinkled over them, followed by watering. If the sowing is covered with agrofabric, moisture will be retained longer. The cover is removed once the seedlings appear. The distance between plants is 20-25 cm. Rapunzel can be propagated not only by seeds but also by dividing the bush. After 1.5-2 months, you can harvest leaves for salad. The roots, when sown in spring, will be ready in September-October, and when sown in summer, only in the following year. They are stored in a cool place in sand, similar to carrots. In regions where the soil hardly freezes, the roots can be mulched with peat and periodically dug up in winter. A few plants can be left to overwinter for seed production, but they need careful protection. Seed boxes are collected as they mature, dried on paper, cleaned, and stored in paper bags. They remain viable for up to 5 years.

What are the benefits of bellflower rapunzel?

In addition to its nutritional value, bellflower rapunzel has medicinal properties: a plant infusion has a beneficial effect on facial skin, rejuvenating it and giving it a glow. Botanist Leonhart Fuchs pointed out that the root, dressed with wine vinegar and salt, stimulates the appetite and acts as a diuretic. Additionally, he mentioned that externally, in a mixture with ground lupine seeds, wheat flour, and ground seeds of kochia (kochia scoparia, a weed), it cleanses the face and body. Most likely, this refers to the use of the plant in skin diseases. English herbalist John Gerard recommended root decoctions for gargling in throat and tonsil diseases.

The second plant also called “rapunzel” is the two-year edible evening primrose (oenothera biennis). It belongs to the Onagraceae family, and its native land is North America. In Eastern European countries, it is also called evening violet, candlestick, salad root, and evening candle.

This plant was introduced to Europe in the early 17th century. Over time, thanks to its undemanding nature, it became wild and spread throughout Europe. The two-year edible evening primrose is also cultivated as a vegetable.

The plant contains inulin, which is beneficial for diabetics, as well as gamma-linolenic acid. Therefore, this rapunzel is widely used in pharmacology.

The third type of rapunzel – currently the most fashionable and widespread among advocates of healthy and light eating – is corn salad, also known as Valerianella locusta or lamb’s lettuce.

This annual plant has a short vegetative period, so it can be sown at different times. It poorly tolerates high temperatures, so in regions with hot summers, it is better to cultivate it as a spring vegetable.

“This type of rapunzel is also called field or corn salad, and it can be easily found on the shelves of supermarkets worldwide. It is a true superfood!”

The plant belongs to the Valerianaceae family and is found in Europe, moderate regions of Asia, and North Africa. It goes by various names, such as lamb’s lettuce in English, as the first harvest coincides with the lambing season.

Another name, corn salad, refers to its common occurrence as a weed in cereal crops in Central Europe. This is why it is also called “Feldsalat” in German, meaning field salad. In French, it is called “mâche,” which is reflected in its Ukrainian name “mâche -salad.”

Originally foraged in the wild from early spring, rapunzel was later introduced to cultivation during the reign of Louis IV in France. It is now widely grown in France, Germany, Italy, and other countries. In 2022, France alone produced 49.5 thousand tons of rapunzel, with production increasing each year.

Rapunzel is cultivated globally and is actively consumed in the EU and the USA as a fresh salad ingredient. It is also pickled as a snack and added to soups. The cost of 100 grams of rapunzel salad in Italy ranges from 1 to 1.45 euros, while in Ukraine, it is around 2.50 euros for the same amount.

According to Kateryna Zvierieva, the development director of the Ukrainian Horticulture Association, rapunzel-valerianella is one of the most nutritious lettuce varieties. It is rich in vitamin C, covering 64% of daily needs per 100 grams. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and plays a crucial role in collagen production, maintaining smooth skin, healthy bones, teeth, and arteries. Rapunzel also contains vitamin B6, iron, potassium, and copper, contributing to cognitive development, immune protection, and heart health.

Cultivation of rapunzel primarily occurs in open ground, suitable for early production in unheated film greenhouses and even vertical farms. In Central European countries, it is often grown from October to March, while in France, it can be cultivated during the summer. Rapunzel seeds are sown directly in the ground early in spring or even late winter. The plant is not demanding in terms of light, tolerating low light conditions and short daylight hours. The main challenge in cultivation is weed control, which is managed through pre-seeding soil treatment and the use of pre-emergence herbicides.

Despite its potential, rapunzel cultivation in vertical farms has not gained widespread attention yet. Marite Gailite, an expert from the Latvian Vegetable Growers Association, suggests that rapunzel is well-suited for vertical farming due to its low and compact growth, allowing for increased stacking. Additionally, it does not require high temperatures, making it suitable for cultivation with a daylight duration of 13-15 hours. However, the adoption of rapunzel cultivation in vertical farms is yet to gain momentum.


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