Wild Arugula; Delicious Low-Water Beauty


What edible plant takes little summer water, contributes color to the landscape and adds flavor to salads, pestos and more? Answer; Common Arugula’s louder, brighter, cousin “Wild Rocket”. This assertive member of the mustard family, Diplotaxis tenuifolia, is also known as Sand Rocket, Italian Rocket, Rucola Sylvetta and Rustic Arugula, depending on who you ask or what part of the world you’re from.


WildRocket Yellow Flowers

The bright yellow flowers of perennial Arugula distinguish it in the garden. (Photo Joy Albright-Souza)


Common in the kitchens of Europe, but not well-known in the U.S., this tough plant is related to the well-loved salad arugula, but is in a different genus and most importantly, is a perennial in Mediterranean climates, instead of a delicate annual. I was originally introduced to this more pungent version by the Seed Maven Renee Shepherd more than ten years ago. I have been growing it in the neglected background of my garden ever since because it is so easy. While I have always enjoyed its sturdiness as well as its brain-clearing flavor, I have moved it up to the ornamental beds and am appreciating it in a whole new way now that I’m trying to save more water than ever.


Gaura and Diplotaxis flowers in Garden Bed

Perennial Arugula looks great in a mixed border, combined here with Whirling Butterfly Gaura. (photo Joy Albright-Souza)


The leaves are generally smaller and more serrated than the more familiar arugula but the bright yellow flower color is the most obvious difference. The flowers look much more like mustard flowers, another family member, compared to the lightly veined white or pinkish flowers of the annual arugula, which bolts quickly with the onset of heat or lack of water.


Picking Wild Arugula leaves

There are many uses for the flavorful leaves of the perennial arugula. (photo Joy Albright-Souza)


The seeds can be slow to germinate, but once the sprouts take off they are hardy as well as tasty. It has a sturdy tap-root, that is presumably part of its success, but also makes it difficult to pull up a large plant, if you happen to change your mind about where you want to grow it. If the blossoms are left to mature, it does prolifically re-seed each year, so be careful planting it in areas where it could escape into wild-lands. In a tended garden however, these little seedlings are more tender and delicious than the mature plants…so pull them up and eat them and everyone is happy.

When the plants get larger or more floppy than you’d like, rather than remove them,  give them a hard pruning to shape them up and bring on new crop of more tender leaves and another round of flowers.


Wild Rocket Arugula flowers with bee

Pollinators love the bright and tasty flowers of Wild Rocket. (photo Joy Albright-Souza)


If you like your arugula very strong and pungent then you will be perfectly happy with the opinionated flavor of this sturdy plant. It has the nutty-peppery taste of the annual arugula but with an additional kick and some piney overtones and  extra horseradish-like heat. Some people don’t care for it once it flowers, but I like the note of bitterness at this stage, and of course the blossoms themselves are edible so I let them bloom away and contribute to the flower border.


Wild Rustic Rocket Arugula Leaf Comparison

The young, tap-rooted seedling of wild rocket (left) is tender and tasty. The mature leaves become more serrated and stronger flavored as the plant grows (right).  (photo Joy Albright-Souza)


The strong flavor of this arugula is too much for some people, so tone it down by using the younger leaves and balance it by mixing with spinach or lettuce when adding to a salad. Even better is to use it as a generous seasoning by chopping the leaves as you would parsley. The chopped or snipped leaves are great for adding to salads, pastas, soups, cheese spreads etc. You can make a sauce or spread by using half arugula and half parsley in your favorite basil pesto recipe.


Wild Rocket with Goat cheese and Olive Oil

Use the chopped leaves and peppery flowers of perennial arugula for flavoring many dishes. Easy and delicious as a simple spread with goat cheese and olive oil. (photo Joy Albright-Souza)


No matter how you use it in the kitchen, this sturdy plant adds a bright spot to the palate as well as the garden. If you live in a mild climate, germinate seeds now for plants that you can enjoy all year long.

Seed available from Renee’s Garden Seeds.


WildRocket yellow flowers close

The yellow flowers contribute to the garden in many ways and distinguish this perennial rocket from it’s white flowered annual cousin. (photo Joy Albright-Souza)




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Categories: Things to Eat


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