Garden Greens: ARUGULA

Arugula, also called rocket or salad rocket, is a fantastic garden green to grow, it is considered an herb rather than a vegetable and is part of the brassica family. (Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.) It has a peppery flavor with a hint of bitterness or may have a pronounced bitterness that is prominent with older or larger plants. This makes it great for our digestive system. Over the course of time bitterness has been bred out of a lot of the foods we eat in favor of sweeter flavors. The bitterness actually helps get our digestive juices flowing, which in turn aids digestion. Many people mistakenly think they have too much of their digestive juices, but in fact most people do not have enough. This is one reason as a nutritionist depending on the person and their health history and symptoms I will recommend using digestive bitters before meals. Arugula acts in this same way, when you taste the slight bitterness, especially when raw. The bitterness in arugula can mean it was harvested later, if it seems too bitter for you, try harvesting it when it is smaller/younger like a baby green. Though I still say the bitterness is great for you and your digestive system as long as you don’t have any digestive issues to begin with. (Always consult a professional who can do a full health history and work to help with any issues you may have.)

Arugula is on the opposite side of the flavor spectrum as spinach, which I have mentioned in the past as the perfect gateway green. Arugula may be more for the adventurous eater in your house, though I say offer it to your selective eaters and see what they think. (Don’t give up after one try, it takes several attempts to help selective eaters to acquire a taste for something new.) You can braise it, sauté it, wilt it or even eat it raw. Lightly steaming or sautéing will help sweeten the flavor a bit if it is too spicy or peppery flavor. Some flavors that pair well with arugula are: apples, beets, chickpeas, garlic, asparagus, beans, fennel, figs, lemon, nuts, oranges, pears, pestos, tomatoes, potatoes, other milder garden greens, ginger, bell peppers and the list goes on. With its peppery bitterness you can pair it with sweet flavors to help balance it. You can pair it with savory flavors to bring an overall warmth and heartiness to a dish. As with any other garden green it is fantastic in a salad, as either the main green or mixed with more mild greens and other flavors like pomegranate seeds, nut cheeses, etc. You can eat both the leaves and the flowers.

Arugula is very easy to grow in containers, grow bags or raised beds. (My preferred methods of growing food crops) Arugula is a cool season annual and can flower from late spring to late summer. Plants can get between 6-12 inches in diameter and 1-2 feet tall. You want to plant seeds ¼ inch deep and 4 per square foot. It takes about 5-7 days for germination to occur and about 40 days to maturity. If you grow in a way that requires thinning you can start thinning at around 3 weeks. Heat will trigger it to bolt and flower to set seeds. Arugula likes direct sun, but not hot and dry areas and can tolerate partial shade. The best hardiness zones for growing arugula are zones 3-6 or you can grow it as a winter crop in climates that are warmer most of the time. You can grow it successfully in a cold frame over winter/unheated greenhouse.(Which is technically considered a cold frame on a larger scale.) For succession planting, which I always recommend for maximum harvesting potential, sow new seeds every 2-3 weeks. Because arugula can bolt in the heat and can tolerate partial or half day shade, I suggest to get the most out of your plants to sow seeds in a shadier area of you garden. You can even use a shade cloth over your plants as temperatures rise to help keep them from bolting. Just as you would with other garden greens, wash it under cold water by swishing it around in a bowl or rinsing it well and spinning it dry in a salad spinner.

Arugula is full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other compounds making it a nutrient dense food. It is a good source for vitamin A, helping support the immune system, cell growth, and acts as an antioxidant. It is also a good source for vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, potassium, iron, copper, zinc and even has more calcium than kale. Arugula is considered a good source of fiber like any other garden green, which as a nutritionist I see that many people are lacking in fiber. Fiber is needed for optimum wellness. It was considered an aphrodisiac by ancient Romans and Egyptians, where now the main benefits widely known is its digestive enhancing benefits. Being a cruciferous vegetable it also has anti-cancer compounds like the other brassicas it is related to. The brassicaceae family of vegetables is one of the very best vegetable/plant families you can eat for over all health and wellness.  Overall arugula is a garden green you will definitely want to grow and add to your menu planning for its amazing benefits and peppery taste.

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