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Arugula: Herb or Vegetable?

December 9, 2016 Back to Picks >

Most plants grown in the herb garden are clearly herbs by virtue of their strong flavor (rosemary and chives, for example) or small leaves (thyme or winter savory). Others seem to bridge the gap between vegetables and herbs, being called one or the other depending on the changing fashion. This is where arugula belongs – somewhere between leafy salad vegetables and spicy herbs.

Arugula (Eruca sativa) is a tender annual from the same family as cabbage and broccoli. Like all members of this family, arugula is a cool-weather plant best planted after the heat of summer is behind us. It likes full sun but also needs regular water to thrive.

When grown from seed, most arugulas will be ready for their first harvest in as little as 40 days. The medium green edible leaves of arugula are best harvested when they are about four inches long with scalloped edged. If allowed to grow unharvested, arugula can reach three feet high. However the larger the leaves grow, the more sharp and bitter they become so harvest early and often.

Arugula is most commonly used as a salad ingredient mixed with lettuces and cabbages where it contributes a sharp, peppery flavor. But once upon a time it was called “rocket” and used as a medicinal herb as well as in salads. It was regarded by the early Romans as a potent aphrodisiac. A lotion made from arugula seeds was said to “cleanse the face of freckles, spots, and blue marks that come by beatings, falls, or otherwise.” Modern studies have also shown this herb/vegetable to be rich in vitamins A and C and in iron, making it a healthy addition to foods.

Whether you call it arugula or rocket, this plant provides benefits as a food or a medicine. Sow some seeds this weekend for a healthy harvest from now through the end of the year.