What is Rocket and How Do You Use It?

Rocket-gentle, Rocket-salad, Roka, Roman Rocket, Tira FR: Roquette GER: Ruke

IT: Rucola, Ruchetta, Rughetta

SP: Oruga

BOT: Eruca sativa

FAM: Cruciferae

ILL: Plate 10, No. 1

This is an important plant commonly used to flavour green salads in Italy. The taste is pungent and interesting. It is a native of southern Europe and western Asia, but has run wild in North America. Wild rocket-salad can be found in waste places or as a weed on cultivated land. It has a yellowish flower, but can be easily recognized by its characteristic smell when bruised. The garden varieties are larger, one to two feet high and have creamy or whitish wallflower-like flowers and bigger, tenderer leaves. Rocket is an annual and is easily raised from seed. Although it will grow almost anywhere it is best grown quickly in rich moist soil, as otherwise the leaves are inclined to become tough. Cultivated varieties have a milder flavour than the wild plants.

Both the leaves and seed of rocket were used as a flavouring by the Romans, and it was common in Elizabethan England. Today, it is much used as a salad plant in the South of France, Italy and Egypt, but seems to have become neglected in more northern countries, which is a pity because it is one of the most interesting salad flavourings and is very easy to grow. The leaves are incorporated with lettuce or other green leaves, dressed with salt, oil and vinegar. Rocket salad is a common

ingredient in the salad leaf mixtures which can be bought in Italian markets.

What is Rocket and How Do You Use It? Photo Gallery




The name rocket is extended also to several other plants.

Dame’s Rocket, Damask Violet, Dame’s Violet, Sweet Rocket, Vesper Flower

IT: Viola matronale

BOT: Hesperis matronalis

dame’s rocket is a perennial, two to three feet high, with purple or white flowers, and native to Europe and western Asia. It is an escape in the United Kingdom and can be used in salads.

Eastern Rocket IT: Erisimo

BOT: Sisymbrium orientale

Eastern Rocket IT: Erisimo

BOT: Sisymbrium orientale

eastern rocket, a relative of hedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), has established itself in Britain, although it is native to southern Europe and the Middle East. It became common on bomb sites in London, just as the London rocket, also an escape in Britain, became established after the Great Fire of 1666. I have found no record of these last two rockets being used in salads, and they are mentioned only to avoid confusion.

Yellow Rocket

IT: Barbarea

BOT: Barbarea vulgaris

Yellow Rocket

IT: Barbarea

BOT: Barbarea vulgaris yellow rocket or common wintercress, is probably too bitter for salads, but is closely related to land cress or American cress (see Cress), which is, of course, grown as a salad. Another rarer species, the lesser yellow rocket, is also mentioned to avoid confusion.

Wall Rocket

IT: Ruchetta Selvatica

BOT: Diplotaxis tenuifolia wall rocket is a close relative of the stinkweed (Diplotaxis muralis). Both of these plants have a strong smell when rubbed, but the wall rocket is used in the South of France as a flavouring herb in salads under the name riquetta (Nice), probably in confusion with the true salad rocket.

Sea Rocket IT: Cachile

BOT: Cakile maritima

South American ‘Rocket’

IT: Araugia or fisianto

BOT: Araujia sericofera, Physianthes albens sea rocket, which grows on the coasts of Europe as far north as southern England, is probably not eaten, although it is known in Italy as ruchetta di mare.

None of the above rockets is related to the South American ornamental, a so-called rocket also known as ‘cruel plant’. Although this rocket belongs to a different family than the true rocket, Araujia and Eruca have the same etymological origin.

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Post tags, Barbarea, Brassicaceae, Diplotaxis, Diplotaxis tenuifolia, Eruca sativa, Rocket.

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