The first draft of my essay is done, and although I will revisit it in due course before the deadline, I thought I would take a few minutes to write a blog post that I have been pondering for some time now. I started with the title and went from there 😉
There has been an explosion in the salad market over the last few years. Oh dear, that sounds messy, but what it means is that Brits are no longer condemned to salads that merely consist of lettuce, tomato and cucumber. All summer. A larger variety of salad leaves is available from the supermarket, and an enormous choice of seeds awaits anyone who chooses to grow their own.
One of the big success stories has been salad rocket (Eruca vesicaria var. sativa, AKA arugula), although to be frank I can’t see why. I’ve grown it a couple of times, but never managed to persuade anyone to eat it. Even the chickens turned their beaks up at it. Yes, it’s easy to grow, and adds a peppery punch to salads. And yes, when it bolts the flowers are also edible, but I’m not sure its current popularity is well-deserved. No doubt you will all now disagree with me in the comments, and let me know you think it’s wonderful 🙂
There are other edible plants that go by the name of rocket. The most familiar is likely to be Wild rocket, Diplotaxis tenuifolia, a hardy perennial that also goes by the name of wall rocket because it likes growing in walls. Unsurprisingly it likes sunny, well-drained spots. The Italians call it rucola selvatica. I have yet to try growing it, but apparently it has a much hotter flavour than salad rocket, so give it a miss if you’re a bit of a lightweight in the spice department. Particularly as the seasons wears on, as it just gets hotter, but you can lightly cook leaves to offset that tendency somewhat. For more on perennial wall rocket, see Alys Fowler’s article in the Guardian from earlier this year.
This lovely beast is a popular plant among permaculturalists. It’s Turkish rocket, Bunias orientalis, a hardy perennial that’s very easy to grow. It has deep roots, so feeds as a different level to many other plants, and those yellow flowers are a magnet for bees and other beneficial insects. Turkish rocket has furry leaves, and you can use them as a salad crop early in the year when they’re at their mildest, but later on they are a bit punchy. Martin Crawford at ART follows on his leaf crop with a harvest of immature flowering stems, which can be cooked liked broccoli. Of Plums and Pignuts calls it ‘rokoli’ 🙂
I have said that Turkish rocket is easy to grow, and once it is established, that’s true. But it’s not the easiest thing to grow from seed. Germination is erratic, and if you sow a tray of seeds they will germinate over time. I tried it once, and didn’t manage to successfully raise a plant, although some of my seeds did eventually germinate and grow into seedlings. It’s something I will have to try again when I can get back into a garden. On the plus side, although Turkish rocket is a brassica it isn’t bothered by the pests of the cabbage family, so you don’t have to keep an eye out for the dreaded cabbage whites.
And finally, there’s sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalis, also known as Dame’s rocket and usually grown as an ornamental. Although I do have seeds, it’s not one I have grown yet, but it is edible. The Extreme Gardener notes that it is an illegal invasive plant in some US states, but Leigh not only harvests tender growth as a salad crop, but collects the seeds to use for sprouting. So if this is a plant you’ve added to your flower beds, then it might be worth a closer look!
There may well be other ‘rockets’ that have escaped me this morning, so if you can think of one I have missed out, let me know in the comments! I’d also be interested to know what you think, if you’ve grown any of these plants.