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Broad-leafed annual, 'Apollo'.

Growing rocket

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Penny Woodward profiles this versatile, peppery herb, which is as easy to grow as it is delicious! Great for salads and stir-fries.

Rocket is an excellent salad plant, that is also terrific in pesto and added to stir-fries. I love its peppery flavour and how easy it is to grow. There are annual and perennial rockets, both in the brassica family. They’re used in similar ways but are actually different species.

Probably the most commonly grown is annual rocket (Eruca sativa), which grows easily from seed sown most of the year, and once established and allowed to go to seed will self-sow every year. The white flowers are also edible and there are some broader leafed forms such as ‘Apollo’. 

Wild rocket

However, I have a particular fondness for perennial or wild rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia), also known as sand rocket, which has a stronger spicy/peppery/mustard flavour. It can be grown in your garden or foraged from the wild. Originally from Asia and Mediterranean Europe, wild rocket was first recorded in Australia in Tasmania in 1878. It later spread to the mainland probably as a contaminant of dumped ships’ ballast. Now found in sandy soils on roadsides, coastal paths and beside railway tracks, it is a declared weed in Victoria and South Australia but is not on alert lists, and is not usually a problem in pastures as it prefers disturbed ground. You can forage or collect seeds, and also buy seeds or plants from nurseries. Sow seeds all year but they will be more successful if sown from autumn to spring.

Wild rocket is a short-term perennial lasting around 3-4 years. It grows from a tap root. Bright yellow, four-petalled flowers occur for four months from summer into autumn, followed by seeds in long slender pods. Hoverflies and other beneficial insects love the flowers. 

Wild rocket is drought-tolerant and grows in full sun or semi-shade. 

How to use

Harvest the tender spring leaves regularly for salads, sandwiches and spicy, cooked dishes. The flavour intensifies as temperatures rise. Unlike annual rocket, which tends to flower and then die, wild rocket may produce leaves all-year-round. Flowers are also delicious.

This article first appeared in our Early Winter 2021 issue (OG 133). You will find all sorts of practical solutions for organic growing in the magazine — all you have to do is subscribe