The Weekly Gardener 1

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The Wild Things

Bladder Campions

Purple Bean Flowers

This is an edible plant, widely used around the Mediterranean Basin to flavor omelets, pasta and risotto. Its young greens make a tasty addition to meals when stewed in a little olive oil, just like chards and spinach. It can be eaten uncooked, but the raw leaves taste bitter because they contain small and harmless amounts of saponins.

In Cyprus it has become so popular that in recent years people took to purposefully cultivating and selling bunches of it with the other edible greens.

If you don't believe me that you are looking at food, here is a quick idea for bladder campion pasta sauce (and here is the actual recipe): saute pancetta with garlic and onion in a little olive oil, add white wine and wait until the sauce reduces, then, just before the pasta is ready to drain, stir in the bladder campion greens, some tomato sauce, salt and pepper to taste, stir it until the leaves soften a little and toss them with the pasta. Grate Parmesan on top and enjoy, it's supposed to be delicious.

Should your enthusiasm for wild greens foraging get the better of you, I'm afraid I have to curb it a little. It takes a lot of bladder campions to get enough for a stew, and picking the tiny leaves can be tedious and time consuming. In Spain there are people called collejeros who specialize in gathering the plant from the wild in large quantities and selling it. The good news is that if you happen to be in a country where bladder campions are popular as a food item, you might find bunches of them at the grocery store.

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Lady's Bedstraw

Summer Flower Border

This is so exciting! I have heard so many stories and legends about this flower, but I never actually saw it before. This is Galium Verum, Lady's Bedstraw, the flower of St. John, a plant so deeply associated with the summer solstice that some even believe it only blooms on the Eve of St. John's Feast. That part is obviously not true, as you can see from the attached evidence.

According to folklore, these pretty yellow flowers are in fact disguised benevolent fairies, who stroll and dance through the forests and fields on the eve of the holiday to bless people with good health and crops with strength, fertility and plenty. They are good fairies alright, but they get really upset if their favorite feast is not observed, and they promptly and severely punish people for working on this day. It is supposed to be particularly bad for males to walk out at night on the Eve of Saint John, because the flower fairies don't want to be seen or talked about, so they will curse the daring who defy them by taking away their ability to speak.

In the old days, women used to put Lady's Bedstraw in their babies' baths and wish that the flowers keep them happy and strong, help them grow faster, and protect them from getting sick, especially with malaria, but their wish was granted only if the plant was picked before the first rays of sun dried up the dew. Said dew was also surmised to treat eye and skin afflictions.

Lady's Bedstraw is inextricably bound to superstitions related to love and fertility, and even to this day young girls place its flowers under their pillows on the night between June 23rd and June 24th to dream up the face of their true love.

On the eve of the feast young maidens would go out into the fields to pick the flowers, which they would braid into crowns and wear upon their return to the village at nightfall, because the blossoms picked on this day were believed to be imbued with power for love charms. In fact folk tradition assigns magical properties to all things associated with this holiday, that grace to its timing evokes similarities to Midsummer night, and especially to the pretty meadow flowers whose bloom happens to synchronize with it.

What a wealth of symbolism and lore for a modest wild summer herb! On a more scientific note, Lady's Bedstraw contains coumarin, just like sweet woodruff, which means it smells like vanilla and fresh hay, so, by all means, go out, pick some, weave it into crowns, throw it on the roof, but make sure it doesn't fall off, 'cause that's really bad luck, and don't mess with the fairies, they'll get your tongue!