Arugula is a salad green also sold as rocket or by its French name, roquette. This member of the mustard family is truly a rocket: it germinates quickly — even in cold, wet soil — and grows rapidly. Full-sized plants are often ready to eat just a month after germination.
Arugula is an acquired taste. It has a smoky, peppery, complex flavor and scent that some even call skunky. To begin appreciating arugula’s distinctive flavor, start by adding little pieces of leaves to regular salads. Before long you’ll probably find yourself adding more and more leaves, and may eventually want nothing but arugula in your salads!
There are a number of different types of arugula. In general, the thinner and spikier the leaves, the more peppery the flavor. Start arugula from seed outdoors directly in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Plant it just a quarter of an inch deep, covering it with a light layer of fine soil. Arugula is not fussy—it is only a slightly modified weed—so it will grow in most soils. It does best in rich soil with plenty of organic matter, and has its best flavor when it is not stressed by heat or lack of water.
Pick only the outer leaves, so the plant remains intact and usable for weeks to come. This cut-and-come again harvest keeps the plant yielding lots of leaves until the plants flower. Harvest often to encourage new growth. Allow a few plants to flower and then go to seed. Harvest the seed and keep in an airtight container, in a cool dry place with minimal light.
Once summer arrives, arugula leaves quickly turn bitter and the plant shifts into flower production. When this happens, it’s time to remove the plants and sow a new crop. Like most greens, it’s difficult to grow arugula during the heat of summer. To maintain a continuous supply of young, tender leaves, sow a pinch of seeds somewhere in the garden every two or three weeks throughout the growing season. In late summer, sowing arugula under shade cloth will let you get plants established for a fall harvest. When cold weather comes, just cover the bed with Garden Quilt to get another month or more of good salads. In warmer zones, arugula can usually be grown as a winter crop without cover.
Flea beetles love to munch arugula, and can severely damage the leaves. Garden fabric (row cover) is the most effective solution. Sprinkling Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth around and on top of your arugula plants will also help to deter flea beetles.
Because arugula plants are relatively small and have compact root systems, you can plant them close together, or even in a pot. As leafy greens they have less need for full sun and will even grow in partial shade or where tall plants create shade. In hot regions afternoon shade is better than full sun, as the plants will not bolt as quickly.
Arugula is a good companion plant with bush beans, beets, carrots, celery, cucumber, dill, lettuce, mint, nasturtium, onion, potato, rosemary, spinach, and thyme; but not with strawberries.
The Medicinal Properties of Arugula
The fiber in arugula helps promote digestive regularity, keeps your tummy happy and leaves you feeling full longer so you resist other fatty foods. It also helps to lower cholesterol, balance blood sugar and reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Arugula is a detoxifying, cancer-fighting superfood. Arugula is a member of the brassica family of vegetables called cruciferous – this group is known for its nutritional powerhouses broccoli, kale and cabbage. This family of vegetables is high in fibre and antioxidants, but they’re also rich in compounds known as glucosinolates, which studies show may reduce the risk of developing lung, colorectal, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.
- Arugula has high levels of chlorophyll which can help to prevent DNA and liver damage from aflatoxins — carcinogenic substances produced by the mold sometimes found in corn, peanuts and some tree nuts. To preserve the chlorophyll in arugula – eat it raw.
- Arugula promotes bone health. It contains eight times more calcium than iceberg lettuce as well as vitamin K, which is important for the absorption of calcium into the bones and teeth. Vitamin K also plays a role in the prevention of heart disease. Plaque that forms inside the linings of the arteries can be partly related to calcium that is not taken up by the bones and teeth. This important vitamin can also help to keep this calcium going to the bones where it belongs!
- Eating arugula will help to reduce chronic inflammation. Arugula contains indole-3-carbinol and isothiocyanates. Both of these bioactive compounds have been shown to suppress the production of inflammatory mediators.
- Eating arugula can protect the aging brain and cognitive decline. Arugula is high in most of the B vitamins but contains especially high amounts of folate. In high functioning older adults, low levels of folate have been shown to be a risk factor for cognitive decline.