The arugula or rocket salad is a plant that belongs to the family of the Cruciferae like turnips and radishes. Its leaves are narrow, serrated and of a fairly dark green. The arugula has a slightly peppery and bitter characteristic taste. It is often found in the salad assortment.
History of the arugula
Under the name of arugula, there are some species of plants in the family of Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae) that are characterized by an astonishing flavour of “mustard hazelnut”. The seeds, for that matter, are used for the preparation of strong mustard. From 10 cm to 20 cm long, the leaves are narrow and, in some species, the ledge is jagged, like dandelion leaves, but more rounded. From the Mediterranean basin, the arugula’s quickly spread eastward to India. They have been consumed since the high antiquity, and perhaps before, by the various people who have lived in these regions.
Aphrodisiac, stimulant and medicinal properties
The Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans attributed to the arugula many medicinal virtues, including that of being an aphrodisiac. In antiquity, it was devoted to Priapus, God of gardens, of fertility and reproduction whose emblem was the phallus. It was planted at the foot of its statue and was recommended to husbands to consume its raw leaves and seeds. This reputation did not escape the religious authorities who, in the Middle Ages, forbade to cultivate it in the gardens of monasteries.
This ban has more or less been extended to the general population, so for a long time Europeans have only used it in a marginal way in their diet. As for the reputation of aphrodisiac, it was not scientifically proven.
A vegetable more and more appreciated
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, its popularity has grown steadily, particularly in the south of France and in Italy, where it is being prepared in many ways. It also makes its way on the tables of North America, especially among healthy eating and gourmets. The temperate climate of this continent is particularly well suited to the point it spontaneously reproduces in several places.
In India, where it produces the most, it’s cultivated mainly for its seeds, from which one draws an oil serving meals and for various industrial uses: soap making, lubricant, lighting oil, massage oil, component of medicinal mixtures. Cakes (seed residues after oil extraction) are fed to livestock or processed into compost. The seeds are also used as seasoning in marinades.
Arugula health profile
The arugula leaves have a slightly spicy taste and add to the flavor of salads, soups and sauces. Like several other Brassicaceae, the arugula contains various compounds that would have anti-cancer effects. Its seeds are edible and serve as a condiment.
The benefits of arugula
Several epidemiological studies have shown that high consumption of vegetables and fruit decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and other chronic diseases. The presence of antioxidants in vegetables and fruits could play a role in this protection.
What does the arugula contain?
The leaves and seeds of the arugula contain flavonoids, especially quercetin. Their exact concentration is not known, because few studies have been done about them. However, the consumption of quercetin-containing foods would be associated with a decrease in the risk of cancer due to its antioxidant properties.
The arugula also contains small amounts of lutein and beta-carotene, two types of carotenoids. Compared to different lettuces (hydroponically grown), the arugula would contain 2 to 5 times more lutein and up to 3 times more beta-carotene. Since carotenoids also possess antioxidant properties, the consumption of food containing them would also be linked to a lesser risk of suffering from certain cancers.
The arugula, like the majority of the vegetables of the family of Brassicaceae (Brassicas) of which it belongs (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, radish, etc.), contains glucosinolates. Seeds and sprouts of arugula would contain more glucosinolates than leaves. However, studies of the quantities of arugula glucosinolates are limited. Glucosinolates have the ability to transform into active molecules (isothiocyanates) when the food containing it is chopped, chewed or in contact with the intestinal bacterial flora. Many of these molecules would help to limit the development of cancer.
Choice and conservation
For salads, choose the bouquets of small leaves that are very fresh, tender and narrow. More fibrous, the leaves of the older plants will be used instead in cooking. If necessary, remove the large ribs before preparing them. In any case, the leaves should be green, spotless and without soft parts.
Refrigerator. A few days in a perforated bag placed in the crisper.
Freezer. Blanch the leaves, let them cool, drain and put them in a freezer bag.
Sow early in the spring in a well-drained soil. You will be able to make seedlings throughout the summer, but excessive heat makes the leaf harder and more fibrous and induce the plant to producing seeds. Therefore, during the hot summer months, harvest the leaves when they are very young, which will stimulate the production of new leaves, also tender. Also, protect against heat with a shade.
Soil PH: 6.0 to 7.0.
The space between the plants will be 15 cm to 18 cm, and the spacing between the rows from 30 cm to 40 cm.
Fertilization: Fatten manure or compost preferably in the fall before sowing. Moderation should be exercised in the use of nitrogen which tends to accumulate in the leaves in the form of nitrates. It is recommended to harvest late in the afternoon, while the content of the nitrate leaves is much lower.
Irrigation: Although the rocket is well adapted to climates and dry soils, irrigation has the effect of preserving the tenderness of the leaves, while the drought makes them fibrous.
In hot and dry years, the cabbage flea beetle can cause severe damage to the leaves, piercing countless small holes. In the spring and fall, plants can be protected with a lightweight agricultural textile. In the summer, it will be necessary to resort to another solution because this textile increases the temperature in the immediate environment of the plants. Insecticidal soap treatments will alleviate the problem without necessarily settling it completely. One can also accept to consume the leaves with their holes, the problem being strictly aesthetic.
It can be harvested until late in the fall if the plants are protected with a textile for agricultural purposes designed to limit the effects of cold and wind. Depending on the species, you can harvest from 2 to 5 times on the same plant at intervals of 10 to 30 days.
Ecology and environment
In the arid regions of northern India, arugula is one of the few plants which can be cultivated during ungrateful winters. Indeed, it has good resistance to biotic stresses (caused by living organisms) or abiotic (caused by the chemical or physical factors influencing living things). Its roots are able to quickly penetrate the soil in search of the water that lies in the deeper layers.
In the desert regions of the Middle East, it is an excellent honey plant (the nectar of which is collected by bees), as well as food for camels and sheep.
Finally, it was found to be extremely useful in combating nematodes that attack tomato, pepper, zucchini and cucumber plants. In organic farming, it is therefore preceded by these cultures in the rotation cycle.