Crop Spot: Arugula

This peppery, pleasant edition to the salad bowl originated as a weed in the Mediterranean region. Since Roman times, however, this plant has been widely cultivated and enjoyed in a variety of dishes and preparations. Historically more common in Europe, especially Italy, arugula is growing in popularity in the United States thanks to its fresh, tart, bitter, and peppery flavor.

In the Garden:

Generally, arugula prefers cooler growing conditions which makes it a great spring and fall addition to your garden. Arugula is fairly easy and fast growing- it goes from seed to sizable leaves in a little over a month- and can be planted continously (in successions 2-3 weeks apart) until 1 month before the first frost. If it bolts (goes to flower), don’t despair! The flowers are edible too!

In the Kitchen:

Arugula is a delicate leafy green that is most commonly enjoyed fresh in salads, wilted ontop of pizza, or mixed into a dish to lend a more robust flavor. The entire plant is edible (leaves, flowers, and seed pods). The flowers have a mild peppery flavor and are fun, colorful addition to salads, mixed drinks, and stir fries. The seed pods are reminiscent of a crunchy, fresh, spicy green bean. Other ways to use it:

• Pureed with lemon juice, olive oil, and walnuts for spicy pesto

• Mixed into a frittata or omelet

• Wilted and seasoned with garlic and lemon juice

• As a topping for tacos, wraps, and sandwiches

In the Medicine Cabinet:

As a leafy green and member of the brassica family, arugula shares similar nutrition benefits to its broccoli, kale, and cabbage cousin. It is a good source of cancer-fighting sulforaphanes, fiber (full belly, healthy bowels), Vitamin K (appropriate blood clotting), and folate (healthy fetal development). One of its most unique nutritional qualities is its high nitrate content which can help positively regulate blood pressure.

Interested in adding arugula to your menu? Try these great recipes:

Arugula Pesto

Arugula Salad

Kelly Wilson, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Taste the Local Difference’s Director of Community Partners. She loves to eat arugula as a fresh salad or pureed into a spicy pesto. Contact her with your veggie questions, or favorite recipe, at [email protected] .