Bladder campion properties (Silene vulgaris)

Characteristics of bladder campion

Illustration of the plant

Common English name: Bladder silene, Bladder campion, Cowbell, Rattleweed, Maiden’s-tears, Maidenstears

Scientific name: Silene vulgaris (Moench) Garcke

Taxonomic synonyms: Silene latifolia (Mill.) Britten & Rendle, Oberna commutata (Guss.) Ikonn., Silene cucubalus Wibel, Silene inflata Sm.

Family: Caryophyllaceae

Habitat: In grasslands, dry sandy places, roads, orchards, vacant lots, walls

Botanical characteristics of Silene genus

Silene vulgaris plants in flowering
Photo of wild campions (Silene vulgaris). This plant always stands out in its flowering stage for its pendulous flowers, with a balloon-shaped bloated chalice

Bladder campion  is a plant of the Caryophyllaceae family, the same botanical family to which  carnations we all know belong. In fact, if we look, bladder campions  stems and leaves have a  very similar color  to those of  carnations.

The genus of Silene  plants has more than thirty species, but all have a common denominator: flowers with five petals of delicate appearance, usually toothed, a swollen chalice and thin elongated leaves, lanceolate.

Perhaps the most significant plant within the Silene genus is the so-called Silene vulgaris, bladder campion, an edible plant well known in the field, and which, together with the asparagus, is one of those that are usually harvested with more profusion in our environment .

Description of the plant

Bladder campion  is an annual plant, which disappears at the end of autumn and sprouts again the following year. It is a plant resistant to the oscillation of temperatures, being one of the first herbs that begin to sprout in spring.

Leaves entire, with hairy margin, lanceolate and pointed. Flowering occurs at the end of spring. Its flower stems can reach about 60 cm in height and the pendulous flowers stand out not for their petals, but for the balloon-shaped swollen chalice, from which the five white bilobate petals scarcely  protrude.

Game about  “popping  the  campion flowers”

Silene vulgaris calyx flowers
Silene vulgaris flower, showing its balloon-shaped, swollen chalice and its bilobated petals

Bladder campion flowers  have always been used as a game for children (and not so children), consisting of putting the flower on the palm of one’s hand and, by giving  a blow with the other palm, you make  the globose calyx of the flower to burst, as if it were a small firecracker.

This game is the reason why this plant sometimes receives the name of explotaculos, pistones o tiratiros. ( In English something like: bottom-exploding,  pistons or shots-shooters

How to gather this  plant

We find bladder champion plants on the edges of roads, orchards, in vacant lots, abandoned fields, between the stones of the walls, …

It can grow isolated, but it generally lives in more or less large colonies, with other plants of the same species. This facilitates their identification, especially when they are small and tender, which is when they must be collected to eat them.

They can be recognized because, at that stage of their development, measuring a span, they seem like small carnations.

Bladder campion  flowers, when dried, can be used for very decorative dried flowers bouquets.

Origin of the name Silene

Silene vulgaris plant without flower. Only leaves or foliage
Bladder campion without flower, that is the moment in which the leaves are collected to eat. Before flowering, they are recognized because their leaves have a color similar to that of carnations.

It seems that the origin of the name Silene derives from Silenus, a character from Greek mythology, one of the satyrs who became master of Dionysus, and who was characterized by his taste for good living and good drinking, two habits that ended Modeling his body with rounded shapes (this is reflected in the paintings and sculptures).

It is assumed that when someone scientifically baptized bladder campion, the rounded shape of the chalice of this flower, must have reminded Silenus .

Why is it called colleja in Spanish?
As far as the denomination of “colleja” is concerned, we all know that in Spanish  a colleja means a blow, more or less strong, in the neck. Apparently, it has nothing to do with a plant, does it?

The similarity of a blow to the neck (“colleja”) with the plant Silene vulgaris is something that gives rise to many theories. We have ours, and it consists of a hypothetical association of the outburst or crack that we hear when hitting the back of the head, with the noise produced by the explosion in the hand of the swollen chalice of the campion. As in the children’s game that we mentioned before. In fact,  there is a great similarity of sound between both actions.

Composition of bladder  campion

Silene vulgaris pendulous flowers
Bladder campion flowers. They are pendulous and with a very characteristic swollen chalice,

Silene vulgaris  has a nutritional composition similar to that of other leafy vegetables such as borage or dandelion. It consists mainly of:

What stands out most of this plant is its content in vitamin C, chlorophyll, carotenes and other phytochemical compounds with health properties.

Medicinal and edible properties of bladder campion

Health benefits of Silene vulgaris

This  is a plant that has been consumed for many years as a common vegetable, although over time, it has been displaced from the feed by other more productive plants, as well known as lettuce or Swiss chard.

In Italy, this plant is considered an excellent depurative. Bladder campions  are rich in potassium, a mineral with diuretic properties, to stimulate the production of urine and therefore the elimination of waste from the body.

They are also very rich in powerful antioxidants such as carotenes and chlorophyll. These principles have properties to purify the liver as they intervene in its detoxification processes. A dish of bladder campion  also supposes a good contribution of calcium and magnesium.

Bladder campion  properties as edible wild plant

The colleja is known mainly for its applications as an edible wild plant. As such, it is collected at the beginning of spring, when it begins to sprout and before it blossoms, to eat it in salads and in different recipes.

They are a very appreciated food in the whole Mediterranean region, where they are eaten raw, boiled or cooked, in different stews.

A traditional dish with this plant is the “soupe de chalet”, a  French dish , or in the typical wild salads called “misticanza” of the island of Sicily.

How is campion consumed?

Bladder campion omelet
Omelet with wild bladder campion leaves (Silene vulgaris)

It is consumed basically in salads and to make tortillas. They can also be used to accompany cheeses, for gazpacho, to fill a fresh pasta, to prepare empanadas and for crêpes (In Creta bladder campions  are consumed in the traditional “pitas”).

We will use only the tips of their tender buds, with their 4 or 6 leaves, because if we cut them from the base, the stems, even being tender, are fibrous and not pleasant to chew.

We can also use them to add to a stew of legumes  or a rice paella.

What flavor does bladder campion have?

It is a very soft, non-aromatic herb. It is really a  green leafy vegetable. However, it has a little leaf, so if you want a good portion, you will have to collect a considerable bunch.

It is a very appreciated plant for its pleasant and fine flavor, which had been present as a vegetable in all the houses.

Where to buy bladder campions?

Currently it is still possible to find it in some markets, although its price is usually higher than that of common vegetables.

The most likely way to consume this plant is to gather it in its wild state or cultivate it in the family garden. In case of wild plants gathering, it is recommended to consult these norms for the collection of edible wild plants.

Silene vulgaris against food globalization

Bladder campion and other wild plants that are now known as edibles have been part of traditional cuisine since antiquity, and arguably their consumption dates back to the origin of man.

Reintroducing the consumption of campions and other wild plants in the kitchen is to recover a vestige of gastronomic history, close to being lost and being buried by food globalization.

Other uses of bladder campion

It is known that the adult plant is rich in saponins and has been used to make  soap, similar to soapwort  (Saponaria officinalis).

Toxicity, contraindications and side effects of  bladder campion

There are no data on the toxicity of this plant in the botanical and ethnobotanical treaties consulted. There are also no reports of whether it has toxic principles in the scientific literature, nor have cases of intoxication caused by ingestion of the plant been documented in these same sources.

Therefore, their traditional use as food, and the absence of data on their toxicity, seem to be the main endorsements of bladder campion edibility.

punto rojo More information on edible wild and medicinal plants

This article was endorsed by Elisenda Carballido - Dietitian nutritionist. Postgraduate in Phytotherapy and master in Nutrition and Metabolism.
Elisenda Carballido
Written by Elisenda Carballido Dietitian nutritionist. Postgraduate in Phytotherapy and master in Nutrition and Metabolism.

10 March, 2024

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