|Eruca sativa |
It is an annual plant growing 20–100 centimetres (8–39 in) in height. The leaves are deeply pinnately lobed with four to ten small lateral lobes and a large terminal lobe. The flowers are 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) in diameter, arranged in a corymb, with the typical Brassicaceae flower structure; the petals are creamy white with purple veins, and the stamens yellow; the sepals are shed soon after the flower opens. The fruit is a siliqua (pod) 12–35 millimetres (0.5–1.4 in) long with an apical beak, and containing several seeds (which are edible). The species has a chromosome number of 2n = 22.
Vernacular names include garden rocket or simply rocket (British, Australian & New Zealand English), eruca, rocketsalad, and arugula (American and Canadian English). All names ultimately derive from the Latin word eruca, a name for an unspecified plant in the family Brassicaceae, probably a type of cabbage.
EcologyIt typically grows on dry, disturbed ground.
The leaves are used as a food by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Garden Carpet.
Cultivation and usesIt is used as a leaf vegetable, which looks like a longer leaved and open lettuce. It is rich in vitamin C and potassium. It is frequently cultivated, although domestication cannot be considered complete. It has been grown in the Mediterranean area since Roman times, and is considered an aphrodisiac. Before the 1990s it was usually collected in the wild and was not cultivated on a large scale or researched scientifically. In addition to the leaves, the flowers (often used in salads as an edible garnish), young seed pods and mature seeds are all edible.
It is now cultivated in various places, especially in Veneto, Italy, but is available throughout the world. It is also locally naturalised away from its native range in temperate regions around the world, including northern Europe and North America. In India, the mature seeds are known as Gargeer.
It has a rich, peppery taste, and has an exceptionally strong flavour for a leafy green. It is generally used in salads, often mixed with other greens in a mesclun, but is also cooked as a vegetable or used raw with pasta or meats in northern Italy and in coastal Slovenia (especially Koper/Capodistria), where it is added to the cheese burek. In Italy, rocket is often used in pizzas, added just before the baking period ends or immediately afterwards, so that it will not wilt in the heat.
On the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples, a digestive alcohol called rucolino is made from the plant, a drink often enjoyed in small quantities following a meal. The liquor is a local specialty enjoyed in the same way as a limoncello or grappa and has a sweet peppery taste that washes down easily.
In Egypt the plant is commonly eaten with ful medames for breakfast, and regularly accompanies local seafood dishes.
Breakfast from a cart in Cairo, Egypt: Stewed fava beans, pickled vegetables, fresh bread, and fresh rocket.
Tortellini with rocket and lemon