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.