Eruca versicaria

Rocket

Rocket (Eruca versicaria, syn. Eruca sativa) is an easily grown leafy crop from the Brassicaceae family of plants, and is suitable for garden areas or pots. The peppery leaves make a wonderful addition to salads and sandwiches, as well as being used in pesto and stirred into cooked dishes such as risotto just before serving. Generally, rocket does best in cool weather, so the best results will come from seed grown in autumn, winter or early spring. In summer, the plants very quickly bolt to seed. The seedlings dislike transplantation, so it is best to sow the seeds where you want the rocket to grow, and thin out the seedlings to give the remaining plants a good amount of space around them. In the winter months, I plant patches of rocket seeds around my dormant Dahlia tubers, to fill in the bare areas with attractive foliage and provide me with material for salads!

Rocket prefers a part-shaded position in the garden. It is best planted in moist, fertile soil to support its rapid growth: poor soils result in bitter, tough leaves. Seedlings will grow quickly, especially if encouraged with regular liquid fertiliser. Pick the number of leaves you need at any one time, and new ones will grow, allowing successive harvests. However, it is a good idea to make successive sowings to ensure a long period of supply as the plants eventually become exhausted! It's best to pick the leaves when they are young, as they can have an overpowering taste when they are mature. Once rocket begins to bloom, it is time to discard the plants, but I like to leave a few specimens behind, as the flowers attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies to the garden, and if a few plants are left to go to seed, self-seedlings may appear. Also, the flowers of rocket are edible and can make a pretty garnish!

There seem to be several varieties of rocket - one with larger and one with smaller leaves. I prefer to use the large-leaf sort when making rocket pesto; the small-leaf one is great for salads and cooked dishes. Rocket can also be grown as a microgreen crop for use as a tasty, nutritious garnish or addition to salads.