926 Eruca sativaCommon Names: arugula, roquette Family: Brassicaceae (cabbage Family)
Arugula is an annual salad green that has leaves similar in taste and appearance to its relative, the radish (Raphanus sativus). The leaves are 3-7 in (7.6-18 cm) long and deeply lobed, like those of dandelions. Arugula is best used as a salad green when it's young, just 1 ft (0.3 m) or so tall. It will eventually produce stems 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) in height, topped with white cross shaped flowers that are very similar to those of radish. Several cultivars are offered in the specialty seed catalogs.
Arugula, Eruca sativa, is native to western Asia and the Mediterranean region. It is standard table fare in Italy, the South of France, Greece and Little Italy in New York City. In recent years Californians and other Americans have discovered this tangy salad green and it can now be found in upscale supermarkets throughout most of the United States. Arugula has naturalized in waste places, road shoulders and fallow fields in northern and western Europe, well beyond its original range.
CultureLight: Full sun. If grown in summer, provide shade from midday sun. Moisture: Arugula appreciates regular watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 11. Arugula can be grown in all zones. It is an annual that can tolerate temperatures down to 25ºF (-3.9 C). It goes quickly to seed in hot weather. Propagation: From seed. Plant seeds thickly in rows, bands or patches in early spring and again in autumn. Summer plantings go quickly to flower and seed, and the leaves are tougher and more bitter than those from plants grown in cool weather. Arugula will self seed in the garden if allowed.
Arugula is one of the new darlings among "in" salad lovers in America, but it has been a popular salad green and "seasoning leaf" in southern Europe for centuries. It's stronger tasting than most leafy greens, but not quite strong enough to be called an herb. The flavor of arugula has been likened to mustard greens (Brassica juncea), radish (Raphanus sativus) and cress. It adds a pleasant peppery "bite" to fresh green salads. Larger, more mature leaves, and those grown in the hot summer, are stronger tasting, almost bitter, and used in salads with discretion. The small younger leaves may be used freely. Toss arugula with radicchio and a mild lettuce (Lactuca sativa). Arugula is a standard component in mesclun, a toss of young leaves of various lettuces, chicories (Cichorum intybus), endives (Cichorium endivia) and mild herbs. It adds a nice tangy bite to potato salads. Arugula can be cooked like spinach (Spinacea oleracea) or wilted in hot olive oil and garlic and served with pasta or potatoes. Use the older, more tangy leaves in soups and sauces. Add arugula to leek and potato soup near the end of the simmering. Use arugula in vegetable stir fry. The seeds of arugula are sometimes used as a flavoring substitute for mustard, and they are pressed to yield an edible oil known as jamba oil. The seeds are also sprouted for use in salads.
Grow arugula in the fall and early spring garden. Usable leaves should be ready in 4-6 weeks. The best leaves are from plants grown fast in cool weather. Use nitrogen fertilizer to insure rapid growth. Pick off leaves as needed, leaving the plant to grow more.
According to ancient traditions, eating arugula will bring you good luck. The oil extracted from the seeds was considered to be an aphrodisiac. Since it also tastes good, it seems like everyone might want to grow this talented green.
Steve Christman 4/30/01; updated 9/21/03, 2/11/05