Arugula, Roquette, Rocket Salad
Eruca sativa is a member of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family.
The edible leaves are characterized by a distinctive spicy, pungent flavor similar to mustard greens. It is a low growing, 8 to 24 inches, herbaceous annual with green, deeply cut, compound leaves. Plants grow densely and develop white or yellowish blossoms with deep violet or reddish veins. Native to the Mediterranean region, it grows wild throughout southern Europe.
Use. Ancient Romans and Egyptians considered it to be an aphrodisiac. The British cultivated it for centuries, and it was in the earliest gardens in New England. Today rocket is popular with Italians, French, Spanish, Greeks, and Egyptians; it is becoming more popular in the United States.
The entire plant may be harvested, or individual leaves may be cut from the plant. Leaves give a sharp, spicy, pungent, peppery taste similar to horseradish in mixed salads, complementing both bland butterhead lettuce and bitter chicories. Best used raw in salads and in tomato dishes when the serrated leaves are only two to three inches long. It can be steamed, cooked as a potherb, or pureed and added to soups. Harvested leaves can be frozen for later use, similar to spinach or other greens.
In India, rocket is grown primarily for its oil, which is obtained from the seeds; the leaves are not used.
Climatic requirements.It is a cool season vegetable. Plants bolt in summer.
Propagation and care. For best results, plants should grow quickly and steadily, as leaf flavor gets stronger with warm weather and less irrigation. To assure optimum growth and flavor, sow seeds early in cool weather in loose, well-composted soil. Keep soil moist.
Sow seeds as early in spring as the soil can be worked, about 1/2 inch deep in rows 12 inches apart. When seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin plants to 3 to 4 inches apart.
Leaves will be ready to harvest six weeks after planting, when plants are between eight and ten inches tall. At the peak of freshness, leaves are dark green and somewhat smooth. A furry underside indicates toughness. Continuous harvest of young leaves encourages further leaf production for a more prolific crop. The leaves become bitter after the plant has flowered, when the flat, open plant becomes leggy and will grow to a foot or more in height.
Harvest is done by hand. The crop is cut, bunched and packed into cartons in the field. Keep the leaves clean. It is extremely perishable and needs to be handled gently and marketed rapidly.
It is very susceptible to flea beetles as the weather warms.
Seed: Seeds are widely available.
Shephens, James. Minor Vegetables. Univ. of Florida Cooperative Extension Bulletin SP-40. June 1988, 123 pp.
Yamaguchi, Mas. World Vegetables. AVI Publishing Company, Inc. Westport, Conn. 1983. 415 pp.
Chandoha, Walter. "Grow Italian Greens." Organic Gardening. May 1984. 80-84pp.
Halprin, Anne, ed. Gourmet Gardening. Rodale Press. 1978. pp. 189-191.
Organic Gardening Magazine, The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Rodale Press. 1978. p. 952.
Mansour, N. S. Rocket. Oregan State University Vegetable Crops Recommendations. 1990.
Compiled by Yvonne Savio, UC Master Gardener and Extension Secretary, UC Davis Vegetable Crops Department, and Claudia Myers, UC Small Farms Center.
Reviewed by Warren Weber, 12/18/89.
Reviewed by Yvonne Savio, 12/27/89.
Figure 1. Arugula or rocket salad grows to a height of 8 to 24 inches. (Photo by Hunter Johnson).