Arugula or rocket is an edible annual plant in the family Brassicaceae used as a leaf vegetable for its fresh, tart, bitter, and peppery flavor. The botanical name of arugula is Eruca vesicaria sativa. It is native to the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Portugal in the west to Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and Turkey in the east. Other common names include garden rocket, and eruca. It is also called "ruchetta", "rucola", "rucoli", "rugula", "colewort", and "roquette".
The leaves are deeply lobed and reach around 3 to 6 inches long. They grow in rosettes. As a cold-season vegetable, arugula can be planted in the early spring or late summer. The young leaves are often eaten raw and are a good source of calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and K. The white four-petaled flowers have purple veins and are borne in loose clusters. They produce thick, flat-beaked seed capsules known as siliques. A spicy oil can be extracted from the seeds and has applications in folk medicine. Along with its dark green leaves, the seeds, seed oil, and flowers are also edible.
Table of Contents
0.5 - 3 feet
1 - 1.5 feet
6 - 7
Types of Arugula
While there are many varieties of arugula, like romaine lettuce plants, there are four main arugula types. Their flavor is similar, but they differ in size, shape, and harvest time.
Olive Leaf arugula
Arugula coltivata is the fastest growing variety and is ready to harvest 30 days after sowing seeds. It has larger leaves than other varieties and the taste changes with the outside temperature.
The Ortolani type is a strain of Coltivata with a uniform appearance. Cool weather maintains its flavor, and warm weather makes the leaves spicier and deeply scalloped.
Arugula selvatica is a wild type of arugula with small, deeply serrated leaves, and wild arugula is the one you commonly see on sandwiches served at popular food chains.
Olive leaf arugula is similar in taste to Selvatica but with smooth-edged leaves. It has a stronger flavor than Coltivata and takes longer to germinate and grow.
Different Varieties of Arugula:
Apollo has large, rounded leaves that are less bitter tasting than many other strains of arugula. It is another mild variety and relatively heat-tolerant. The spicy leaves lack bitterness and are about 8 inches long with rounded margins.
The ‘Astro’ cultivar’s mild, yet peppery flavor might be a perfect match. Harvest baby greens in just three weeks, or wait the full 38 days for even milder mature leaves. The edible white flowers can also brighten up your salads. However, keep in mind that after flowering, the leaves tend to taste a little sharper.
This cultivar comes directly from Italy, making it a perfect garnish for all of your Italian-style dishes. With a spicy flavor and frilly leaf edges reminiscent of kale, ‘Garden Tangy’ adds a kick to pasta dishes, salads, and more.
It’s also quick to mature. In just 30-35 days, you can pluck 10- to 12-inch leaves from the plant. Like all arugula varieties, this one loves cool weather and sunshine.
Sylvetta arugula has narrow, spicy leaves and is slow bolting, while Wild Rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) is a weedy-looking plant with a strong flavor that matures in 40 days.
With large, lettuce-like leaves, ‘Italian Cress’ is an ideal addition to salads and sandwiches. It’s also convenient for those who struggle with patience, because each leaf provides lots of edible greenery compared to other, skinnier varieties.
This basically means you don’t have to pick as much at one time in order to enjoy a salad. And this is also helpful for those who grow greens indoors over the winter and gardeners who have limited space. The large leaves can also be sauteed like spinach, or added to soups and stews. ‘Italian Cress’ matures in just 30 days.
The ‘Red Dragon’ cultivar, with its serrated, oak-leaf-shaped leaves, reminds me of that tree. This is the perfect variety for a deliciously striking salad. And with its mildly peppery flavor, you can serve it to guests who’ve never tried arugula before for a flavorful, but not overbearing, first impression. Another slow-grower, this plant matures in 45 days, reaching a height of just five to six inches at maturity.
As its name suggests, the extra-spicy ‘Wasabi’ cultivar goes perfectly with sushi or in Asian-inspired spicy ground beef lettuce wraps. A frost-hardy variety, ‘Wasabi’ likes to grow in the spring, summer, and fall. It takes a little longer to germinate than other varieties, so don’t be alarmed if seedlings don’t poke through the soil right away.
‘Wasabi’ takes 10 to 12 days to germinate. But you can harvest the spoon-shaped leaves four to five weeks later.
For a slim, almost weedy-looking plant that packs a bold flavor, try ‘Wild Rocket.’ This perennial cultivar even grows like a weed, reaching skyscraper-esque heights of 20 inches at maturity. This variety matures in about 40 days.
It is very attractive and fast growing variety of Rocket with distinctive protrusioned, oak leaf shaped leaves.
Slow Bolt is another broad-leafed, lobed arugula that was specifically bred to resist bolting, and can add a few more weeks of harvests compared to non-tolerant varieties. Very similar to Astro, the main differences are slightly better heat resistance and a spicier, more peppery taste.
Harvest baby greens in as little as 30 days, and full-sized leaves in around 40 days. This is the recommended variety for those who specifically want a heat tolerant salad arugula.
When to Plant
Arugula is generally ready to harvest about 40 days after seeding. So if you time it right, you can have two arugula seasons: one in spring to early summer and another in late summer into fall. It won't grow well in the high heat of midsummer. In the spring, you can start planting as soon as the soil is workable. For a continual harvest, sow more seeds every two to three weeks until the weather heats up in the summer or frost hits in the fall. Arugula tolerates frost and even a light freeze.
Selecting a Planting Site
Your planting site should be sunny to part-sunny and have well-draining soil. Container growth is also an option. Avoid planting where other members of the Brassicaceae family have been in the past year, as pests and diseases that affect the family at large might linger in the soil.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Seeds should be planted roughly 1/4 inch deep and an inch apart in rows that are about a foot apart. Nursery plants should be positioned at the same depth they were in their previous container. A support structure won't be necessary.
How to Grow Arugula in Pots
Arugula plants are relatively small and self-contained, so they're easy to grow in containers. This is a convenient way to keep your plants near your kitchen for regular harvesting. Also, as the weather warms, containers make it easy to move the plants out of direct sun in the heat of the day, thereby extending the growing season.
Because the roots are fairly shallow, you don't need an exceptionally deep container. A depth of at least 6 inches with a wider diameter should do. Make sure the container has drainage holes. Unglazed clay is a good material to allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls. And a self-watering container can make care a lot easier.
How to Grow Arugula From Seed
Most gardeners start arugula from seed. It can be direct-seeded in the garden starting about one to two weeks before the final frost in the spring. The seeds can germinate even when the soil temperature is as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly cover the seeds with soil, and keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. Germination should occur within a week. Once the seedlings emerge, thin them to around 6 inches apart, saving the baby greens you thin for eating.
Arugula Plant Care
Arugula grows best in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. It also does well in part-sun, especially in warm climates. But as the temperature starts to rise, provide some afternoon shade. This will help to prevent the plants from wilting and bolting (flowering and going to seed), extending your harvest for as long as possible.
Arugula plants are happiest in well-drained soil with a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. They tolerate a variety of soil types but prefer a nutrient-rich loam.
Like many vegetables, arugula needs regular watering for healthy growth and optimal flavor. It has a shallow root system. Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy, watering as soon as the top inch of soil feels dry. In dry climates, this might mean watering every morning. If you fail to water regularly, you'll likely cause the plants to bolt and ruin the flavor of the leaves.
Temperature and Humidity
The ideal temperature range for arugula is between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. It tolerates frost but doesn't like the high heat of summer. You can extend arugula's growing season somewhat by protecting it from freezes with row covers and from heat with shading. But the best strategy is to plant it at the right times. It does not need high humidity and grows quite well in arid climates, provided it gets enough water.
As long as you plant your arugula in nitrogen-rich soil, it shouldn't need additional feeding. Pale leaves indicate a lack of nourishment. To enrich your soil, mix in compost prior to planting.
Arugula is a self-pollinator, and varieties also can cross-pollinate via insects and the wind.
Your arugula should be fully grown and ready to harvest in about four to seven weeks, depending on the variety. It’s best to harvest leaves when they reach around 3 inches long. Young leaves are tender and sweet while older leaves start to get tough and bitter.
If you want the plants to continue to grow, collect just the outer leaves by cutting or tearing them off toward the base, leaving the crown intact. Alternatively, you can cut off all the leaves just above the soil; the plant might regrow if the weather is still mild. If you wait too long to harvest and the plant bolts, eat the flowers but not the leaves. The blooms appear after the leaves have grown to full size and are too bitter to eat. You can pick them off and add them to a salad or sandwich for a peppery bite.
Aim to use fresh leaves as soon as possible. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Pruning and Propagating Arugula
No pruning beyond regular harvesting is necessary for arugula. But if you notice any broken or diseased leaves, remove them as soon as possible to help prevent problems from spreading.
The most effective way to propagate arugula is by saving seeds. This is an inexpensive and convenient way to propagate varieties you particularly liked or plants that were especially vigorous. You just need to make sure different varieties are separated by at least 800 feet to avoid cross-pollination. Here’s how to save seeds:
Allow your arugula plants to flower, and wait for the seed heads to turn brown and become brittle.
Cut the seed heads off the plants, place them into a paper bag, and put them in a cool, dry spot to finish drying completely.
Rub the seed pods between your hands to release the tiny black seeds. Separate out all the other plant matter. Doing this over a white sheet is helpful to see and catch everything.
Store the seeds in a paper envelope or a jar. They should be viable for up to six years.
Potting and Repotting Arugula
A quality all-purpose, well-draining, organic potting mix should work fine for potting arugula. Aim to pot your plants in a container that's large enough for their mature size, so you can avoid repotting and disturbing them as they quickly mature.
Arugula is an annual, so no overwintering is necessary. You might be able to grow plants indoors over the winter if you can provide them with enough light. Grow lights are an option to supplement natural sunlight.
Pests and Plant Diseases
Diseases aren't common with arugula plants. But bacterial leaf spot and powdery mildew might occur. Moreover, the short, early growing season of arugula means you'll miss most pest infestations in the spring but perhaps not if you plant again in late summer.
Arugula plants are favored by slugs as well as cabbage loopers, flea beetles, aphids, and diamondback moths. Keep an eye out for insect eggs, and remove any you find by hand. Aphids can be sprayed off with water. Stop slugs from reaching the tender leaves with beer traps, diatomaceous earth, or another traditional method.
Benefits of Arugula
Used for detoxification of body
Anti-oxidants present in arugula regulate the enzyme reactions within our cells and also help to destroy the free radicals within our body which are harmful and can cause diseases. Arugula contains a substantial amount of anti-oxidants and, therefore, can help you lead a healthy life.
In addition to this, antioxidants present in Arugula protect your body from various illnesses like the common cold and even safeguards your system against cancer, premature aging and heart diseases.
It has been observed over the course of the last three decades that consuming a considerable quantity of cruciferous vegetables like Arugula can lower the risk of cancer, mainly lung and colon cancer. Cruciferous vegetables have a bitter taste due to the sulfur-containing compounds (sulforaphane). But it is these compounds only which also give cancer-fighting properties to Arugula.
Researchers are trying to find out the beneficial effects Arugula of sulforaphane in fighting melanoma, esophageal, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. It has been detected by researchers that sulforaphane can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase, which is involved in the progression of cancer.
Eye Health Protection
Arugula For Eye protection contains good quantities of the anti-oxidant Vitamin A. This is very good for your eyes. Arugula even improves the health of your bones and teeth. Vitamin A protects the surface of the eye i.e. cornea and thus it is essential for good vision.
Good for bones health
Arugula contains Vitamin K which is essential for strong and healthy bones and delays the onset of osteoporosis. Vitamin K catalyzes osteotrophic activity in cells which means that it promotes the formation of bones. With the onset of certain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Vitamin K works to slow down the degradation of neural pathways. Arugula, being a good source of Vitamin K, can help guard oneself against these diseases.
Strengthens the Immune System
Arugula contains a host of vitamins and minerals that is sure to boost your immunity system and guard against a variety of diseases. In addition to various immunity enhancing properties, arugula contains copper which helps to create more white blood cells. The white blood cells are the primary defense agents of your body and protect you against a whole lot of disease-causing agents.
In addition, arugula contains Vitamin C which is one of the best defenses for your body as it acts against the disease-causing inflammatory free radicals and eliminate them from the body.
Good for expecting mothers
Arugula contains folates, a classification that contains folic acid, which decrease occurrences of mental defects in newborn babies. Folates primarily help the body to manufacture new cells and, therefore, help guard against any anomaly that might plague a newborn child. So arugula is an excellent choice for would-be-mothers.
Good for diabetes patients
Arugula contains an anti-oxidant called alpha-lipoic acid that has proved to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevents oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.
Arugula also helps to decrease peripheral and autonomic neuropathy in diabetes. So it would be good to include arugula in the diet of a diabetic.
An important health benefit of arugula is that it helps to enhance metabolism. Arugula has Vitamin B-complex that aids the metabolism process in your body. Eight B-complex vitamins take part and facilitate different cell activities like energy production, fat synthesis, the production of red blood cells and also aid other many other vital processes for cell and metabolic health.
Helps absorption of minerals
Arugula helps in the absorption of minerals by our body. This is because arugula has a very low level of oxalates when compared to other leafy vegetables. The absorption of minerals in the body system is prevented by oxalates.
So arugula, with its low oxalate content, helps to absorb the essential minerals like copper and iron which are so beneficial for your health.
Enhances athletic performance
Arugula is rich in nitrate which helps to improve muscle oxygenation during exercise. Regular dietary intake of nitrate facilitates exercise tolerance during endurance workouts. Nitrate consumption helps improve the quality of life for people who find it difficult to execute the activities of daily life. So arugula can help people with cardiovascular, respiratory or metabolic diseases.
Benefits for weight loss
Regular intake of arugula helps in losing weight in addition to the other benefits that it provides. Arugula is low in calories and rich in vitamin or nutrients and thus will provide the necessary nourishment to your body without adding to your body weight.
Arugula Side-Effects and Allergies
Although consuming arugula in optimum quantities may have quite a few beneficial effects, over consumption of anything can take a toll on your health. Some of the short-term side effects of arugula include flatulence and abdominal cramping and discomfort.
These bad effects are caused due to the presence of sulforaphane in arugula. Again it is dangerous for people with certain blood disorders or people who take medications for blood thinning.
Arugula contains Vitamin K which can cause blood clots when it counter reacts with certain blood thinners. Arugula contains nitrate and improper storage may result in bacteria converting the nitrate to nitrite which is harmful for your health.
Arugula is considered a vegetable when it is cooked and eaten like spinach, or it can be used more sparingly as an herb to flavor a salad, meat, or pasta sauce.
It is also used to top cooked pizzas or whirled into pesto.
The seeds were traditionally used as flavoring oils and had widespread usage in traditional medicinal practices in the Mediterranean, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria.
Arugula seeds are pressed to make Taramira oil, used in pickling, cooking and salad dressing in northern India.
Ancient Romans ate it for good luck.
Arugula was used as a potent aphrodisiac during the ancient civilization of Rome.
The seed cake is also used as animal feed.