Arugula is a small herbaceous plant with long, serrated, green leaves that have a soft, fleshy consistency. Leaves range from bout 5-15 cm long and 2-5 cm across. When young, leaves are arranged in rosettes at ground level, but as the plant ages it “bolts” and sends up a central stalk, up to a meter tall, from which leaves sprout out alternately. This stalk will then produce small (1-2 cm), yellow, four-petaled flowers, similar to those found on broccoli, turkish rocket, or radish (all are members of the brassica family). Each flower produces a long, green seed pod that turns brown with age. Each pod contains a few dozen brown seeds, each about 1mm across and shaped like a slightly flattened sphere.
Arugula is extremely easy to grow; so easy in fact, that it can easily take over a lawn in a few years if you let it go to seed. It grows well in fertile and compacted soils alike, is fairly tolerant to drought, and can be easily started from seed. Simply sprinkle the seeds around a patch of soil where you wish to plant and water. Seeds do not need to be covered. Sow after the last frost up to one month before first frost (can be grown nearly all year with a low tunnel or cold frame). Many crops can be grown each year. Leaves can be harvested any time, but will be spicier in the summer and sweeter in the spring or fall. Most plants will support multiple cuts if not uprooted when harvested.
To harvest the seed, let some plants bolt, flower, and fruit. When most of the pods on a given stalk are brown and dry, cut off the whole stalk and place upside-down in a paper bag. After about a week in a dry place, shaking occasionally, most of the seeds should have fallen out of the pods and into the bottom of the bag. Pour them into a paper envelope and label for future planting.
Any seeds that drop around the mother plant are likely to germinate either the same year (if conditions are right) or the following spring.
Arugula has a unique earthy-spicy flavor that’s sure to add flare to any salad, omelette, pizza, or other dish. The leaves are high in vitamin C, potassium, and calcium . The seeds and flowers are also edible, and the flowers have a nice sweet taste.
Arugula is highly resistant to deer and rabbit forage, and makes an excellent ground cover. It does have a tendency to take over an area if left alone, so be sure to harvest regularly to keep it in check!
Due to its ability to self-seed and grow in compacted soils, arugula makes a great addition to a salad meadow or alternative lawn.