Family: Brassicaceae

Countries: Africa, Asia, Egypt, Europe, Lebanon, Mediterranean, Morocco, Portugal, Syria, Turkey

Rocket (also known by the botanical name Eruca vesicaria subsp. sativa) is a fantastically easy-to-grow edible; it’s a productive plant with leaves that bring a deliciously peppery flavour to salads and culinary dishes.  I really enjoy rocket leaves eaten fresh in a salad.  One of my favourite simple suppers is a jacket potato with rocket and avocado.  However, you can also cook with rocket, as these leaves produce delicious soups.

In the UK, rocket seeds can be sown from April to August.  The growing season is a little bit longer in the South of England and warmer parts of the country, where rocket seeds can be started in March and seeds can be sown until the middle of September.  During Indian summers, rocket seed sowings up until early October can sometimes be successful, if the weather’s warm; however the most reliable sowing period is from April until the middle of August.  This is a fast growing and rewarding edible that grows in almost any soil and situation.  Plants do best in a sunny or partially shaded spot, in any moist but well-drained soils.

If you have a small patio garden with limited space to grow your own fruit and vegetables, you’ll be glad to know that rocket grows happily in containers of peat-free compost.  I particularly enjoy growing rocket in window boxes.  Seeds can be sown alone, or mixed together with the seeds of other leafy salad plants and herbs, to form a row of mixed salad vegetables.

I find that as rocket plants age, their leaves naturally become hotter and spicer and the flavours intensify; as a result, I sow seeds fairly regularly, because I prefer my rocket leaves to have a gentler flavour.  Rocket plants that have grown in adverse conditions, (for example, during a period of drought or exceptionally warm temperatures) also tend to produce leaves with a harsher, heightened flavour.

To get the best out of my plants, I usually grow rocket as a cut-and-come-again plant; I use scissors to cut the young plants off entirely at soil level and harvest the baby leaves when they’re just a few weeks old.  I repeat this every week or two, making regular harvests from spring to autumn.  If you’re growing cut-and-come-again salads, remember to water your plants immediately after cutting your harvest.

Rocket plants are annuals; they grow from seed, produce leaves and establish themselves as lovely little plants and then they flower, set seed and die (which can only take six to eight weeks in summertime).  During periods of drought or exceptionally warm temperatures, rocket often bolts; plants will suddenly set seed as soon as they can, in a heroic attempt to guarantee the plant’s survival.  Irrigating your plants regularly will help to mitigate the risk of your plants bolting.  Some rocket cultivars have a greater resistance to bolting than others.

To encourage your plants to produce their maximum harvest and extend your rocket plants’ life span, take care to harvest your rocket leaves regularly, at least every week or two, as this will help to maintain your plant’s vigour.  Rocket plants that are grown as cut-and-come-again plants – trimmed off at the base, every week or two, tend to have a longer and more extensive lifespan than rocket plants that are allowed to grow to full size, with just a few leaves removed at a time.

Rocket flowers are also edible.  Rocket’s ivory coloured blooms usually display veined markings on their petals; the flowers make a pretty addition to salads.  Whilst outside in the garden, rocket flowers are enjoyed by bees and other pollinating insects.

NB. This page is dedicated to rocket (also known by the botanical name Eruca vesicaria subsp. sativa).  Please note that Hesperis matronalis, also known as ‘Sweet Rocket’ is an entirely different plant.

For more articles about edible gardening, please click here.

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