Harebell is a member of the bellflower family commonly found across Northern Europe and most of the Northern Hemisphere. This plant grows in clumps and produces tiny, blue bell-shaped flowers at the end of its long, thin stalk. Its stem leaves are long and thin, but closer to the base they are very round in shape.
Harebell flowers in the summer and fall. The flowers of the Harebell grow singly at the end of each stalk, which will average about a foot in height. They have very little scent. The bright blue coloring of the flowers, however, works well to attract insects like butterflies to promote cross-pollination. The Harebell doesn’t necessarily need the insects’ help to thrive. It is a hermaphroditic plant and thus capable of self-fertilization.
This plant got its name, “Harebell,” from an old wives tale that witches or other practitioners of the dark arts used the juices of the plant to turn themselves into rabbits. The plant has a long history in folk tales of being negatively associated with witches, fairies, and the devil, and is also sometimes known by names like Goblin’s thimble, Witch’s thimble, or Dead Man‘s Bells. Another more light-hearted name for this plant, is the Bluebell.
Harebell is a hardy plant and grows in a variety of habitats, from woods, to meadows, to rocky cliffs, and even beaches. It can grow in shady and sunny locations alike. In the Western United States this plant has been found growing at elevations up to 12,000 feet.
Just as with the size of its flowers, the seeds of the Harebell are extremely small. They will be easily dispersed by the wind. Seeds ripen from the months of August to October. Harebell seeds can be hard to germinate when trying to grow them at home, although pre-chilling the seeds for a full month before sowing them can improve the germination rate. For best results, sow seeds directly onto soil that is well drained during autumn or spring. Once the plants have reached seedling stage they can be transplanted.
The flowers of the Harebell were once used to produce blue dye. There are modern-day uses for this plant other than as an attractive addition to gardens and landscaping. Harebell leaves can be eaten raw as part of a green salad. The plant is used in many home remedies. Its roots are used in a preparation to ease earaches. It is said that chewing the leaves may ease heartburn, although the evidence to support this is anecdotal.