Published on 08/26/98

Garden Rocket: Arrugula Arriving in Area Gardens

Arrugula (Eruca sativa Mill) is one of the "designer" greens that has been around for centuries and is coming back into vogue with the salad crowd.

Known as roquette, rocket, garden rocket and rocket salad in America, arrugula is also called white pepper in England.

The name "rocket" derives from the French "roquette," a diminutive form of the Latin "eruca." While it was most commonly known as roquette for many years, the term "arrugula" appears more often now.

Arrugula is a low-growing (8 to 24 inches) annual with dull green, deeply cut, compound leaves. The edible leaves have a distinctive spicy, pungent flavor resembling horseradish.

The plant belongs to the Cruciferae family and is a close relative of the mustards. Its zesty leaves are used in a young, tender stage in salads and sometimes cooked as a potherb.

Early writers called arrugula "a good salad herb, but it should not be eaten alone." Ancient Egyptians and Romans both thought the leaves in salads to be an aphrodisiac.

Arrugula seems to do quite well in some U.S. home vegetable gardens. Seed company catalogs often list the seed, usually as roquette under the category of herbs.

In Georgia, arrugula is best grown as a cool-season vegetable during the same season as radishes: fall, winter and spring. It matures from seed in two to three months. Very warm temperatures cause it to bolt (go to seed) rather quickly.

In the garden, thin seedling plants to three to four inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. Fertilize and follow recommended practices for commonly grown vegetables. Few pests bother roquette, perhaps because of its pungency.

Harvest the leaves a few at a time, so others will continue to sprout from the main stalk. Use the leaves when they're young and tender.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.