People who feel that they are gardening-challenged should try planting arugula. It’s very easy to grow, requires very little care, and is overflowing with disease-fighting antioxidants. Your gardening confidence will be boosted in no time!
Arugula (eruca sativa) is also known as rucola or rocket in other parts of the world, including Greece where the salad favorite is called “roka.” A member of the brassicaceae family of vegetables, arugula is kin with cabbage, mustard, broccoli, caulifower, and many other crucifers known for their high nutritional value.
Even planting from seed, within a month you could already be harvesting your own arugula leaves. Start with good, rich soil. Ordinary garden soil is fine as long as you amend it with homemade compost, organic fertilizer, and mulch (I used dried leaves, or when I can buy it, dried rice husks).
You can even grow arugula in pots or containers if you have limited space. Gardening centers sell potting mixes that you can use in lieu of regular soil.
Arugula is an easy to grow and versatile vegetable that can be used for a variety of dishes including pasta, pizza, risotto, pesto, salsa, soups, stews, and of course, as salad leaves.
“Baby” arugula leaves are often used as part of a mesclun salad mix (from the Provencal word meaning mixture) that features different varieties of lettuce and other greens. The peppery flavor of arugula is also the perfect complement to ripe tomatoes and Parmesan cheese blocks in a classic Mediterranean-type salad with a balsamic and oil dressing.
These plants are not very fussy so long as you water them regularly, a requirement of all leafy greens. Sow the seeds in plastic seedling boxes or directly into your vegetable plot.
In my case I grew some seeds in my boxes but found that it was difficult, owing to their soft herby stems, to transfer them to the garden without damaging the seedlings. When replanting, always handle them with care by the stem and not by the roots.
Thus I took to sowing them direct—and I should have thinned them out after they started growing, as the gardening manuals direct you to, to give each plant the space and nutrition it requires. But I love each seedling and I just resorted to harvesting regularly to give time for the smaller plants to catch up with the rest.
The soil in your garden should be tilled and amended until they reach a friable state. This would allow for a quick growth of the roots.
Mix in the organic fertilizer into the soil before sowing, and make sure to add just the right amount. In my first season growing this vegetable I was too eager to add fertility to the soil and found out that too much can make the leaves taste bitter.
This salad green does not need too much sun, partial shade is alright as long as the plant gets about three to four hours of sunlight a day. In fact, in my experience too much sun exposure makes the leaves taste too peppery. Also, the plant matures and bolts too fast for you to enjoy the greens for a longer period.
Another rule of thumb is to harvest the arugula leaves before they become dark green and mature. The baby leaves will be small and pale but they will have a mild spicy touch that’s delicious. Even non-salad eaters, who normally eschew the bland lettuce leaves, will love arugula’s unique taste.
More people will eat arugula once they learn that it can help fight gastrointestinal ulcers, a widespread condition in a modern stressful society. Dr. Joseph Mercola, a leading alternative medicine proponent, has likewise noted that arugula contains cleansing properties that would help counteract the presence of heavy metals in your body, especially in the liver.
Many people nowadays have problems with their liver without knowing it. Those who drink a lot or are taking painkillers such as Ibuprofen on a regular basis are at high risk for liver ailments. Liveraide is a known plant-based supplement (silymarin, from the milk thistle plant) that could help protect the liver, but it is a bit expensive to take every day. Potent vegetables such as arugula, especially if you grow it yourself, would be a cheaper alternative to supplements.
Arugula has all the good stuff: antioxidants, flavonoids, anti-cancer phytochemicals, Vitamins A, C, K, and the B complex of vitamins, as well as a host of important minerals including iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus.
It should be emphasized that arugula is an excellent source of Vitamin K, as it can provide almost the entire recommended daily value in just 100 grams of the vegetable. Medical literature has noted that Vitamin K helps promote bone growth and limits damage to nerve cells associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Interestingly, too, arugula has protein of up to 2.5 grams for every half-cup—good news for those wanting to cut down on their meat intake but would want to know all the possible protein replacements (apart from soy). As most leafy greens are, arugula is low calorie food: only 25 calories for every 100 grams.
My favorite way of eating arugula is through pizza. I prepare my own coppa ham and arugula pizza. Make your own dough or just use store-bought pizza crust, less stress that way. Eating this pizza makes you feel like you’re being bad and good at the same time.
Coppa and Arugula Pizza
A bunch of arugula, washed and trimmed
Tomato or pizza sauce
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Coppa ham (available at Santi’s)
Prepared pizza crust
1. Apply a generous amount of pizza sauce to the prepared crust; sprinkle the cheese and then layer with the coppa ham.
2. Bake as directed (about 8 to 10 minutes for the prepared pizza crust, like those from Gourmet Village).
3. Remove from oven, top with as much arugula as you like, and serve immediately.