Wild rocket is a type of arugula that grows spontaneously in nature. Also called wild arugula, it belongs to the botanical species called Diplotaxis tenuifolia (which in turn belongs to the large botanical family of Brassicaceae). This plant is very common in ruderal and uncultivated areas. It prefers challenging, sun-exposed, calcareous soils. In fact, it’s not difficult to find thriving plants in the cracks of concrete along roadsides or in the most unlikely places. You can find it from sea level up to over 1,000 meters in altitude.
In this article, we will discuss the characteristics of wild rocket and its many culinary uses. Due to its unique spiciness, it is a favorite among those who enjoy bold flavors.
How to Recognize Wild Rocket
Wild rocket is an herbaceous and perennial plant. To recognize it during a countryside stroll, simply observe its physical characteristics:
- It has a long taproot and appears as a large tuft, derived from an erect stem.
- The stem has numerous branches, making it a voluminous and showy plant.
- In its wild state, this plant does not exceed 50 cm in height.
- Leaves are found on the stem branches.
- Wild arugula leaves are pinnate-lobed, deeply incised, narrow, and toothed. They have a fleshy texture and a typical spicy flavor.
- At the base of the tuft, the leaves are longer, up to 15 cm. Higher up on the stem, they are shorter and more leathery.
- The flowers are yellow, grouped in elongated terminal racemes and have the typical appearance of brassicaceae.
When and How Wild Rocket Blooms
Wild rocket blooms continuously from May to October. Its flowering is very similar in appearance to that of turnip greens. The flowers of wild arugula are also edible.
From the flower, seeds (fruits) develop, collected in thin siliques that, once opened, spread the plant everywhere.
How to Harvest Wild Arugula
The most sought-after part of wild rocket is its leaves. These should preferably be harvested when they are tender.
A fundamental precaution in harvesting wild arugula is to avoid places at risk of pollution or pesticide use. It’s tempting to pick wild arugula along a country road, but it’s better to refrain, as the passage of cars cannot guarantee a safe product, even though it’s a wild plant.
Nitrates in the Plant
Be cautious when collecting wild rocket in cultivated fields rich in nitrogen. The plant thrives in challenging soils, but if it proliferates in fertilized fields, it can accumulate nitrates, which are not ideal for our bodies.
If the consumption of fresh wild arugula is limited to what is found in poor soils, there’s no problem. However, to avoid the risk of excessive nitrates, wild arugula can be cooked. Nitrates are highly soluble in water, so cooking reduces their content in the leaves.
Wild rocket is one of the most beloved edible wild herbs, alongside purslane, plantain, and dandelion. The leaves can be consumed in salads dressed with oil, vinegar, and lemon, or in mixed salads of wild herbs.
They can also enhance classic summer salads with tomatoes or boiled potatoes. The use of wild rocket in cuisine is expanding. The leaves are perfect for accompanying carpaccio or grilled meat dishes. They are the key ingredient in the famous spring pizza. Moreover, they can enrich omelets, mixed meatballs, and soups, or be used to prepare a tasty pesto. In short, the use of wild arugula knows no bounds, whether in the hands of star chefs or simple enthusiasts. Due to its success, its close relative, Eruca sativa, which lends itself to similar uses, is often cultivated in fields.