Eruca sativa

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Plants with a purpose -

Also known as: arugula, ru­cola, roquette

Rocket is a na­tive of the Mediter­ranean and west­ern Asia, and a pop­u­lar salad herb since Ro­man times. It is of­ten found grow­ing wild in many Euro­pean coun­tries and in other parts of the world in­clud­ing the south­ern USA, South Africa and Aus­tralia.

All parts of rocket – leaves, flow­ers and seeds – can be used. The Ro­mans liked the tasty seeds as much as the leaf. When crushed and mixed with cold wa­ter, they act in a sim­i­lar way to mus­tard, pro­duc­ing hot-tast­ing sul­phur com­pounds.

In Eng­land rocket was cul­ti­vated for sal­ads in the Tu­dor and Ste­wart pe­ri­ods and was seen as valu­able in ap­ply­ing the hot-cold, wet-dry prin­ci­ple. Rocket be­ing hot and dry, was seen as the per­fect foil to cold, wet let­tuce, and who could ar­gue with that?

Sadly, it fell off the menu in Eng­land and colo­nial Amer­ica in the18th cen­tury due to its ‘strong, un­grate­ful smell’.

But eth­nic groups con­tin­ued to en­joy rocket’s pun­gent flavour. Mi­grat­ing Ital­ians brought their tra­di­tional ru­cola with them to Amer­ica and Aus­tralia where it was picked up by the salad revo­lu­tion. Lucky for us!

Medic­i­nally, rocket was eaten as a source of vi­ta­min C and as a tonic, to ease stom­ach com­plaints and as a di­uretic.

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