Mercury Food and Wine article no. 12 – Some Rocket Science

Here is the draft of my article that appeared in the Mercury Food and Wine supplement today.

Some Rocket Science

Since I started farming herbs have always been the focal point of the farms production. The formal herb garden forms the centre of Broadleaze Farm, all else seems to radiate from it. Herbs seem to embody all that is beautiful and awesome about the plant kingdom, and to me are essential to cultivate on an organic farm. Herbs are beautiful to look at and have a myriad of health and culinary virtues. For the organic farmer they have many uses such as companion planting, pest and disease control and as a source for veterinary medication.

Herbs form an important part of the farms produce and in fact one herb, Rocket, has been one of Broadleaze Farm’s mainstays.

Salad Rocket, Rocquette or Arugula can be classed as a herb or as a vegetable. It has amazing culinary, health and horticultural benefits. Rocket (Eruca sativa) is an annual of the Brassica family which include mustard, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. It can be cultivated through all seasons and unlike Basil is therefore available all year round. It is thought to have originated in Italy and has been used since Roman times. The Romans used both the leaves and seeds.

From a culinary point of view it is incredibly versatile.

It is an ideal all seasons ingredient as it can be used in summer and winter dishes. It is mainly used in salad on its own or to complement lettuce and other salad greens. The Romans used it with Cos lettuce. It also complements fennel bulbs well.

It can be prepared as a spinach and also added to soups and stews. The subtle peppery flavour is delicious. Rocket makes a refreshing alternative to Basil as a pesto.

Rocket has been listed as one of the top ten foods for its potent anti-oxidant content. It has significant quantities of Vitamin A, C, K, and folic acid. It has good iron and calcium content and as it has one of the lowest oxalic acid contents of the leafy greens, there is little impediment to their absorption.

Rocket is also very useful to the farmer and gardener as a green manure crop. It has a beneficial effect on the soil by inhibiting infestation of nematodes. I also find old plants to be a good addition to the compost heaps.

It is easy for the home gardener to grow salad rocket. It is best grown from seed that has been broadcast onto the soil. The seed will germinate in about two to three days and the leaves will be ready to pick in less than a month. It truly lives up to its name. If you leave the plants to flower and seed it will readily set its own seed and give you a further crop. However after a few successions it is best to rotate the rocket to another part of the garden. It has few disease and pest problems with the exception of flea beetles. These tiny insects may periodically attack your rocket and leave tiny holes in the leaves. The only damage is aesthetic, only chefs with an eye on presentation need worry.

Rocket is a wonderful addition to the kitchen and garden and a potent combination of all that is best in herbs and vegetables.

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About Rob Symons

My name is Rob Symons. I live in Pietermaritzburg, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MuthiMuthi is my Zulu nickname which means tall tree. I am an Organic Farmer and an environmentalist. I live and work on Broadleaze Farm in the Mkondeni valley on the eastern outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.
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