Rocket has to be the culinary A-lister of recent decades, racing its way to the top of the salad charts during the 1990s. Before then, it hadn’t generally been cultivated commercially, other than in Italy and a few other countries. It was usually collected as a wild salad plant until its popularity in trendy restaurants launched it to commercial superstardom.
Rocket is so easy to grow it’s almost a crime that people actually go to the shops and pay for it ready washed in bags. Rocket can grow pretty much anywhere; plant a couple of pots at home and some rocket in the beds and one packet of seeds should keep you going all summer and into late autumn.
Rocket 'Discovery' is a very popular finely divided, dark leaf variety that has a unique aromatic flavour. The leaves are more upright and bolting is slower than standard wild rocket.
Fast and easy to grow, it can be grown to baby leaf stage or left to mature. Ready to harvest in 25 to 30 days, sow in succession right from end of winter through until late summer and even into autumn. It can be sown in containers on the patio or can be grown in pots on the windowsill for fresh leaves all year round.
Sow directly into a bed containing any good fertile, well drained soil. Use a line to mark out the row. Sowing in a straight line allows you to identify where your rocket seedlings are and which are the weed seedlings to pick out.
Sow just a small quantity at one time, and then sow successionally, to harvest over a longer period. A 1m (3in) row is usually enough to get you started. Late summer sowings will carry on cropping into the winter if the plants are protected by cloches.
Sow in spring for summer greens, and in autumn for winter greens.
Sow thinly 6mm (¼in) deep in drills spaced 45 to 60cm (18 to 24in) apart. Sow the seeds thinly along the row, spacing them out as evenly as possible. The distance between the seeds should be about 3cm. (1¼in) Cover the seed lightly with soil. Remove any weed remnants or large stones as you go to ensure the plants have a good start.
Water the seeds in well using a watering can with the rose attached. This means you drench the soil but minimise disturbance to the seeds.
Flea beetle can be a problem in summer, nibbling holes in rocket leaves. The best defence is to cover the row with a length of horticultural fleece.
Rocket will always want to flower in summer, because this is the time of year when all crucifers naturally flower, then produce seed.
As autumn approaches, cover crops with sheets of horticultural fleece to keep the cold at bay, and you could be cropping right through to first frosts.
Simply pick the young leaves and the plant will keep generating new ones for months. Older leaves are a bit tougher and hotter. Pick over the whole row rather than just one or two plants as this would weaken them.
As the flower buds appear pinch them out to prolong cropping. The flowers are small, white with dark centers and can be used in the salad for a light piquant flavour.
Rinse the leaves in cool water and dry on paper toweling. Wrap leaves tightly in plastic or a zip lock bag. Best if used within two days.
Arugula is a nutritional powerhouse, containing significant folate (folic acid) and calcium. Exceptionally high in beta carotene, vitamin C, and a good source of iron, Arugula is a member of the same family as cabbage and broccoli and like all such vegetables; it contains cancer-fighting phytochemicals called indoles.
You can substitute water cress for a similar peppery flavor. You can also use fresh baby spinach (but the flavour will not be the same). Also dandelion greens have a tart flavour but a bit more bitter.
Diplotaxis is from the Greek diplous, meaning ‘double’, and taxis meaning ‘row’, because of the double row of seeds in the seed pod.
Wild Rocket have the species name tenuifolia which means ‘with finely-divided, slender leaves’. While the species name of a number of cultivated varieties, integrifolia indicates that the leaf margins are entire and uncut (or not toothed). Other cultivated forms are simply called 'erucoides' from Eruca, the classical Latin name used by Pliny.
The term arugula (variations of Italian dialects around Arigola) is used by the Italian diaspora in Australia and North America and from there picked up as a loan word to a varying degree in American and Australian English, particularly in culinary usage. The names ultimately all derive from the Latin word eruca.
Vernacular names include Garden Rocket, Rocket, Eruca, Rocket salad, or Arugula (American English), In Italy, it can be known as Rucola, Rugola, Rucola gentile, Rughetta, Ruchetta or Rucola selvatica.
Throughout the world there are variations: Rauke or ruke (German), Roquette (French), Rokka (Greek), Ruca (Catalan), Beharki (Basque), Oruga (Spanish), Rúcula (Portuguese) krapkool (Flemish), Arugula Selvatica, arugula sylvatica, aeruca rocket, eruka psevnaya (Russian), oruga (Spanish), jaramago (Spanish), Roman rocket, salad rocket, sciatica cress, shinlock…
The common name Rocket is used for at least twenty species of herbs, mostly members of the mustard family Brassicaceae. These species vary from well known and widely cultivated to obscure and rarely or never grown.
One of these plants is grown mainly for its beauty (Hesperis matronalis, ‘Dames Rocket’); the rest are considered edible salad herbs, wild or cultivated. They share in common a distinctive zesty or sharp flavour that is akin to mustard or horseradish.
There are two main types of rocket that we can find in supermarkets, often mixed together in the same package. The geuns Eruca often known as 'Cultivated Rocket' and the genus Diplotaxis known as 'WIld Rocket' which is hotter in flavour. Over the past ten years, these peppery little leaves have had a big impact on cooking and the range of varieties available as seed is increasing year on year, the flavours between varieties vary tremendously.
The leaves, flowers and sprouted seeds are eaten. The flowers and leaves taste differently, try both; some people prefer one to the other.
The most familiar in terms of current culinary usage is Eruca vesicaria, One of three species of the genus Eruca, native to parts of Southern Europe it is an annual plant with white flowers. It is often called Rocket, period, as if it was the only plant with that name. There are many other names for it, see above, but it is often simply known as Salad Rocket. With oval, softly serrated leaves, the small creamy-white flowers give rise to plump seedpods.
No so familiar is the genus Diplotaxis. With 27 species, the genus includes both annual and perennial members. It is native to Central & South Europe, NW Africa, Crimea, North & West Turkey, Caucasia and West Syria.
This species is well known as an ingredient in salads composed of so called wild greens. It is often called Wild Rocket or Wild Arugula, Perennial Wall-Rocket, Narrow-leaved or Wall-Mustard, Various seed vendors have sold it as Rucola Selvatica. a sort of fake scientific name / Italian name. It has also been offered as Arugula Sylvetta.
There are a number of varieties available as seed. These drought-tolerant, evergreens have a prostrate habit and are resistant to bolting. With pure yellow flowers and slender seedpods and they taste hotter and more aromatic than the varieties of Eruca.
D. tenuifolia is the most well known Wild Rocket, with dark green, deeply notched leaves that are prized as salad ingredients because of their pungent aroma and flavour.
D. integrifolia is a traditional Italian variety also known as ‘Olive Leaf’ Wild Rocket with light green leaves that are smoothand elongated shaped.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 700 seeds Common Name Wild x Cultivated Rocket
Roquette, Rucola, Rugula
Other Common Names Selvatica or Sylvetta Family Brassicaceae Genus Diplotaxis Species erucoides Cultivar Discovery Hardiness Hardy Biennial Height 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in) Spacing 15-22cm (6-9in) Position Full sun Soil Well-drained/light, Clay/heavy, Time to Sow March to September outdoors and all year round indoors. Time to Harvest April to November