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The bladder campion, colleja in Spanish

(from Latin cauliculus, small cabbage) is a
perennial herb which sprouts in spring and
autumn, forming dense groups of tender
sprouts. Its fleshy, opposite, spear-shaped
leaves with tiny sharp marginal teeth emerging from thick knots make the plant easily
recognizable. In springtime, stems grow quickly forming many inflorescences at the
apex. These flowers exhibit a characteristic
globular calyx and five deeply lobed white
petals. Fruits are seed pods which contain
many tiny brown seeds. Roots are thick and
yellow, quite similar to carrots.
Its scientific name, Silene vulgaris, alludes to
Silenus, a Greek mythological character, famous for his big belly (similar to the calyx of
bladder campions). Silenus was a minor
deity, a satyr usually portrayed as drunken
and riding on a donkey.

Figure 2. Silene vulgaris, bladder campion

Bladder campion is a common plant found in

fields and ditches. It used to be much more
common in fields planted with cereal crops,
before deep plowing with tractors eliminated
its roots.
Native to the Mediterranean region, this plant
has spread to other regions of the Old World
(northern Africa, Macaronesia, Eurasia) and
also introduced into America. On the Iberian
Peninsula there are four subspecies; vulgaris,
in fields and wastelands; and commutata,
glareosa and prostrata, which are mountain
plants, growing on rocky slopes and limestone soils (Castroviejo et al, 1990).

Traditional Uses

Figure 1: Roman mosaic with represents Silenus being carried to

his donkey (source: Wikipedia)

The bladder campion is highly prized as an

edible wild green. People use a knife to cut
tender sprouts (especially in spring and also
in warm, rainy autumns) which are then cleaned and kept in water or in a bag to prevent
them from drying out.

There are several historical references to the

use of this plant as food in famine years, an
example being the plague of locusts which
devastated the island of Menorca in 1685.
Cienfuegos said: During Lent, poor people
cook a delicious stew which they season like
spinach, with a very good taste (Rivera y
Obn, 1991).

Bladder campion in local Spanish cuisine

This much appreciated vegetable can be
eaten raw, although it is normally cooked. It
appears as an ingredient in many traditional

Stews, especially Easter stews, with

chickpeas, other legumes, potatoes,
always in stews without meat, cooked
for Holy Thursday and Good Friday. A
variation of this would be chickpeas or
beans with bladder campion.

Figure 3. Bladder campion, used in numerous recipes for spring

Bladder campion with sausages.

Chop the sausages with tender garlic
sprouts, add bladder campion, two eggwhites and paprika. Use yolks to thicken
the sauce and add ground cumin.

Omelettes and scrambled eggs.

Rice with bladder campion. Often with

beans and snails.

As an ingredient in gazpachos manchegos.

Sauce with bladder campion: boiled

and seasoned like a vegetable and sauted with garlic cloves. Can be made
with bladder campion alone or mixed
with other wild greens. Other ingredients for this recipe could be pinenuts,
hard-boiled eggs, cumin, mint, etc.

To fill pastries such as the Valencian

wild greens minxos.

In cocas, a traditional recipe from Mallorca Island.

As an ingredient to prepare wild green


Potatoes with bladder campion. The

plant is fried with chopped garlic, adding
potatoes, salt and water, and boiled until potatoes are done.

Raw, in salads.

Fried potatoes with bladder campion. In a pan, fry potatoes, and when
half done, add garlic, dried pepper and
bladder campion until fried. Eggs may
also be added.

The roots are also edible, but consumption is

uncommon. Some references discuss their
use as a food in times of famine.

Other recipes
The use of bladder campion as a wild green is
not unique to Spain. It is gathered and cooked throughout the Mediterranean Basin
(Rivera et al, 2006):
Bqla (wild greens). Morocco. A mix of wild
greens (mallow, bladder campion, poppies,
purslane) fried after a quick boil and then
dressed with lemons and olives.
ggdiwen (wild greens). Morocco. Mix of
wild greens (nettles, bladder campion, docks,
poppies) boiled and fried.
Minestra delle 18 erbe selvatiche
(Vegetable soup with 18 wild greens). Sardinia, Italy. Traditional recipe which mixes 18
different wild greens including borage, bladder campion, wild beet, some thistles, docks,
poppies, etc.
Salado campanello, ensalada campnela
(Field salad). Languedoc, Provence, France.
Wild green salad including bladder campion
as an ingredient.
Xortopita, (Vegetable pastry).
Greece. Traditional Greek pastry filled with
vegetables, wild or not, including bladder

Suppa derbiglie (Vegetable soup). Corsica. Soup made with a wide mix of wild
greens (wild leek, fennel, sow thistle, etc.)
plus crop vegetables (carrots, onions, potatoes, beans). Often includes rice or fried

Other names for Silene vulgaris




Kahali, nouar ed dil






Conillets, colitxos




Strouthouthkia, sakrithkia


Trivoli, stride, strisciola, cucina




Caurilh, cresinu, petarla








Givisganotu, tavsan ekmegi, siyavu



Source: Rivera et al, 2006

Figure 4. Xortopita, vegetable pie (Picture: JF)

Formerly, bladder campion was a seasonal
food, without any way of preservation. Today
it can be boiled, pressed into a ball and
stored in the freezer.

Other uses
As a game, people pick a bladder campion
flower and pinch the calyx closed with their
fingers. When you hit someones forehead
with this little ball, it produces a popping
sound. Thus, in Spanish, when someone is
slapped or hit on the head, they are said to
have received a colleja.

This species is traditionally used in folk medicine (Pardo de Santayana et al, 2014):

Its consumption is good for disorders of

the blood.

A tea made from its flowers and leaves

is used for stomach and liver diseases.

Poultices of boiled bladder campion have

been used for curing colds.

In external use, the crushed leaves and

roots are used in the Canary Islands to
treat skin problems such as wounds,
blisters, burns, warts, etc.

Mothers who have daughters, dont

send them to look for bladder campions,
Because there are shepherds in the
fields who will follow them like bees
(Madres que tengis hijas, no las mandis por collejas, porque hay pastores en
el campo que se atiran como abejas)
Poormans season is here; they look
for crickets, bladder campions, asparagus and thistles
(Ha llegado el tiempo de los pobres, se
van a pescar grillos chichirimamas, collejas, esprragos y cardillos)
Bladder campion cultivation
Bladder campion has been successfully reproduced from seeds and cultivated commercially, especially in organic farming.
In one experiment at the Agro-Environmental
Research Center in Albacete, scientists studied different sowing densities, harvest times, crop productivity and production costs.
In the conclusions of this study, researchers
highlighted the importance of plant density in
productivity and seasonal variation of production, which could reach 2.5 kg./ m2, harvested in six cuts a year (Fernndez y Lpez,

Roots contain saponines, used to make natural soaps.

This is an interesting plant for beekeepers,
since bees gather pollen from its flowers.

This plant is so popular in Spain that it is part

of traditional phrases and songs (Fajardo et
al, 2000), :

Figure 5. Bladder campion group

Castroviejo, S. et al. (eds.) 1990. Flora Ibrica Vol.
II. Real Jardn Botnico-CSIC.
Fajardo, J., Verde, A.-, Rivera, D. y Obn C. 2000.
Las plantas en la cultura popular de la provincia de
Albacete. Instituto de Estudios Albacetenses. Albacete. 264 pp
Fernndez, J. y Lpez, J. A. 2005. La colleja, el cultivo de una verdura silvestre tradicional. Agricultura
876: 548-551
Pardo de Santayana, M., Morales, R., Aceituno, L. y
Molina, M. (eds.). 2014. Inventario espaol de los
conocimientos tradicionales relativos a la biodiversidad. Ed. Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentacin y
Medio Ambiente. Madrid.
Rivera, D. y Obn, C. 1991. La Gua de Incafo de las
Plantas tiles y Venenosas de la Pennsula Ibrica e
Islas Baleares (excluidas medicinales). Ed. Incafo.
Rivera, D., Obn, C., Heinrich, M., Inocencio, C.,
Verde, A. and Fajardo, J. 2006. Gathered Mediterranean Food Plants-Ethnobotanical Investigations and
Historical Development. In Heinrich, M., Mller, W.
F. and Galli, C. (eds.). Local Mediterranean Food
Plants and Nutraceuticals. Forum Nutr. Basel, Karger vol 59: 18-74

The bladder campion has been

collected in the Mediterranean
region for hundreds of years and
is one of the quintessential
spring wild vegetables

Rivera, D., Verde, A., Fajardo, J., Inocencio, C.,

Obn, C. y Heinrich, M. (eds.) 2006. Gua etnobotnica de los alimentos locales recolectados en la provincia de Albacete. Ed. Instituto de Estudios Albacetenses Don Juan Manuel. Albacete.
Tardo, J., Pascual, H. y Morales, r. 2002. Alimentos
silvestres de Madrid. Ed. La Librera.

Texts: Jos Fajardo y Alonso Verde.

Pictures: Miguel Brotons, Jos Fajardo,
Design: Miguel Brotons