Feeling frisky after the salad? Maybe it’s the arugula.
Arugula (Eruca sativa), a relative of mustard and often called rocket, at one time was considered an aphrodisiac. It was even banned in some gardens. It originated around the Mediterranean, where it has been a garden staple for centuries, and arrived to North America with the colonists. Italian immigrants later brought varieties popular today.
Snarky aspersions as a foodies’ cliche, arugula is so common partly because it’s so easy to grow and quick to harvest. With the exception of cabbage moths few pests bother it, and the plant reseeds easily. Arugula is the classic cut-and-come-again crop: The more you pluck, the more it grows.
For some it’s an acquired taste: peppery, with hints of its mustard and nuttiness in some varieties. The older leaves are more bitter, promoting early regular harvesting. It’s not as strong as radicchio, not as bland as baby spinach. (The pointy leaves of wild varieties such as Rucola Selvatica tend to be sharper in taste, and the fat-lobed leaves of varieties such as Rocket Salat are milder.)
In Turkey, it’s tossed with grilled fish. In San Francisco bars, arugula is an ingredient in “salad in a glass,” mixed with gin or vodka. The edible seeds can be infused to flavor oils.
The best approach to grow your own arugula is seeding, not buying store plants. The time to sow seeds is now. For a successive crop, scatter seeds every three weeks or so. Don’t bury them too deeply because they need light to sprout.
Once sprouted seeds have a few leaves, they may need shade cloth if the weather turns hot. Arugula will take full sun or partial shade and adapts well to containers; it can even be grown as a micro-green.