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By Sydney Jordan Brown
Master Gardener 2000
While maybe not the top green, it’s “arugulably” the best leafy green.
An annual herb in the mustard family (Brassicaceae), arugula is also known as salad rocket, roquette, and garden rocket.
Consumed since the times of ancient Rome and Egypt, leaves and seeds were associated with aphrodisiac properties. It’s also mentioned in several texts in the Bible as well in Jewish texts during the first through fifth century AD.
Native to the Mediterranean, for a long-time arugula has been an ingredient in Italian, Moroccan, Portuguese, and Turkish cuisines. In India, seeds are used to produce oil for medicinal and cosmetic uses.
Although brought here by British colonists, sadly enough, it wasn’t a popular culinary ingredient in the U.S. until the 1990s. Arugula, (Eruca vesicaria subsp. sativa), is esteemed for its pungent edible leaves and flowers.
With its peppery-nutty taste and nutritional content, (a good source of calcium, iron and vitamins A, C, and K), it’s no wonder it’s grown in popularity around the world in recent years.
Unlike other lettuces and salad greens wilting beneath dressings, arugula leaves remain crisp and spicy when dressed with vinaigrette. It’s also wonderful in sandwiches, piled atop Neapolitan pizza and packs pizzazz as pesto.
Of course, there’s nothing like arugula from your own garden. Not only can you clip the tenderest baby leaflets, but indulge this green for a while in autumn and spring. Its short appearances make it all the sweeter.
Fortunately for us, the pungent aroma we find so appealing is quite offensive to insects. This rarity of being naturally resistant to such undesirable insect diners is yet another plus for propagating this plant.
Although arugula prefers well-drained soil rich in humus, it will willingly thrive in open soil, raised beds, or wonderfully in pots. Put it in a spot with a bit of afternoon shade and you’ll soon be savoring your first spicy salad greens.
Arugula may be sown late summer-autumn or late-winter to early-spring. However, it’s best when planted in autumn since cooler weather discourages bolting.
Spring sowing is possible, but when it warms quickly, bolting plants become bitterly unpalatable.
So, to indulge this short-season savory even more, why not do both? Whether autumn or spring sown, you’ll appreciate your own arugula each time it sprouts from the earth.
Sow seed (autumn or spring) about ¼ inch deep and an inch apart in rows 8 to 10 inches apart. Or, broadcast arugula by itself or mix seeds with those of other salad greens. Cover with a thin amount of fine compost and pat down. Water thoroughly and keep moist until seedlings sprout.
Germination can happen in a few days, so you can plant successively for a more continuous harvest. As plants form basal rosettes of smooth or lobed leaves, you can clip as you please for “cut and come again,” and again, and again.
If left to go to seed, arugula easily reproduces itself, so you’ll probably not need to purchase or sow seed again. How great is that?
Whatever the season, you’ll be delightfully enjoying your first leaves in no time. Leaves of autumn-potted plants may be harvested even longer if protected with a winter frost blanket.
So, rocket yourself to the nearest plot and put in some arugulably the best greens you’ll ever grow!
Recipe: Arugula and figs with honey vinaigrette
6 dried figs, stem removed and each cut in 6 wedges
1/3 cup water
8 cups Arugula, washed and drained
½ cup pistachios or toasted pine nuts
1 large gold beet, cooked, peeled and cut in julienne strips
3 oz goat cheese
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
zest and 1 tablespoon juice from an organic lemon
pinch of each sea salt and ground chipotle powder
Put dried fig wedges and water in microwavable bowl. Cover and cook on high for 1 minute, then set aside to plump.
Put arugula in large salad bowl. In a jar with tight fitting lid, mix together vinegar, honey, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, sea salt and chipotle powder. With lid tightly on jar, shake until all ingredients are well blended.
Very gently toss arugula with vinaigrette. Add drained figs and beet strips, then gently mix again. Distribute between four bowls, then top with nuts and goat cheese.
Pinetree Garden Seeds
They have several varieties as well the wild variety that has a nuttier-spicier taste as well as even more self-sowing capabilities.