Scientific Name: Erica sativa
Rocket is a fast-growing, hardy, upright annual from the mustard family. It is highly sought after for its peppery flavoured leaves which perk up a salad like nothing else can.
The plant, which is easy to grow, produces a profusion of smooth, dark green, deeply indented leaves. Its branched, leafy main stems are hairy and reddish and can grow up to 60 cm. Rocket bears cream-white four-petalled flowers followed by fat crisp seed pods.
Rocket enjoys well composted, rich, moist soil, preferably fertilised with an organic fertiliser. Although Rocket can be grown all year round, it does not enjoy the intensely hot summer climates, therefore it is advisable to plant it in a cool, shaded part of the garden in summer. However, it flourishes in the cold winters, even when there is frost, and during the colder half of the year it can be planted out in the full sun.
Once the plant produces a flower stalk it focuses on producing seeds, and the leaves become bitter. You can pinch off the flower stems to prolong the production of leaves for a little longer, but it is recommend that you plant a few new Rocket plants every two months and pull out the older plants. You will then have a constant supply of young delicious leaves to pick. Rocket will also grow happily in a well prepared large pot, but it must be kept well watered.
Rocket originates from the Mediterranean area and was even a popular salad plant in Roman times — today some people still call it Roman Rocket.
Harvest and parts used
Rocket leaves can be gathered in succession as soon as they are large enough. The flowers can be harvested as soon as they appear, and the seed pods while young and juicy. You can also allow the plant to go to seed and collect the dry seed for culinary purposes.
Rocket is, as mentioned above primarily, a salad herb. Rocket leaves have a strong, distinctive, nutty, peppery, mustard flavour. The leaves, flowers and young seed pods can be added to mixed green salads to add colour and flavour. The younger leaves have a milder taste and the older leaves are more peppery. Rocket is also a perfect addition in sandwiches. Combined with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese/ or shavings of parmesan it makes a popular hors d’oevre. Rocket can be lightly cooked like spinach and served as a vegetable. Rocket flowers are delicious in stir fries and soups — added at the last minute. Strips of leaves, singed in a little olive oil, will add a crisped texture and magnificent flavour to sauces and marinades. Young and tender seed pods can be pounded with spices and salt for an unusual flavouring for grilled steak or fish. Add Rocket flowers and flower buds to cottage cheese, or use them as garnish on vegetables. Rocket seed can be used as a substitute for mustard, or even sprouted for salads.
Rocket is a bitter, pungent tonic herb and has a high vitamin and mineral content, most particularly rich in potassium and silica. Its deep green leaves introduce valuable iron and chlorophyll in the daily diet. In ancient times the oil extracted from the seeds was said to be an aphrodisiac! Rocket tea is a mild stimulant and a cough remedy. If you need a completely natural cough syrup in a hurry, try this recipe:
Mix equal quantities of Rocket flowers & leaves and a few Tablespoons of honey and crush and pound (or liquidise) together to a paste. Take 1 teaspoonful when necessary. Chew it well and then swallow with half a glass of water. Repeat the dose when necessary. Do not keep this potion for more than a day.