Herb of the month August: Rocket

Herb of the month: Rocket is probably the easiest herb to grow from seed and its peppery leaves offer just the right kind of tang for spring and summer salads. 

This zesty herb originates from the Mediterranean regions. Not surprisingly, it is used as a fresh topping for pizzas and open sandwiches or for tossing through pasta before serving. Like basil, it makes a rather tasty pesto for flavouring pasta, soups and baked or roasted vegetables. Older, spicier leaves can be added to stir fries, egg dishes, soups and stews. 

Kirchhoffs has two types of rocket available in seed packets: wild rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) and garden rocket (Eruca sativa).

Wild rocket has narrow, deeply lobed aromatic  leaves and a stronger flavour than normal rocket. It is favoured by chefs as a micro green or baby leaf and when used in salad should be tossed with a vinegar or citrus-based dressing to balance its flavour.

It can be sown all year round in mild climates and is slower growing than garden rocket, with a garden height of 20cm and has yellow edible flowers that can be used to garnish salads, and to decorate drinks. 

Garden rocket can grow up to 60cm, with  larger, softer green leaves and like wild rocket it can be sown thickly and treated as a cut and come again salad leaf. It does better as a cool season crop because the flavour of the leaves gets stronger as summer progresses and if it flowers. Rather remove flowering stems.

To grow: both rocket varieties like rich well composted, friable soil and plenty of water. Sow directly or into containers, in full sun or semi shade. It is a good companion crop for green beans, dill, lettuce, nasturtium and thyme. 

Sow in spring for summer greens, and in autumn for winter greens. For a longer harvest, sow a small quantity at a time, and then succession  sow every two or three weeks. Water regularly and feed weekly. Harvest constantly and cut down two of three times during the season.

To use: rocket leaves are best used as soon as possible after picking but they can be kept in the refrigerator for a day or two if the leaves are rinsed in cool water, dried on paper towels and stored in a zip lock bag.

Did you know? Rocket is generally regarded as ‘just’ a culinary herb but its leaves contain iron, vitamin C and beta carotene, as well as phytochemicals that are reputed to cleanse the body of pollutants.


Article published in The Gardener