Rucola Selvatica A Foglia D’ulivo: the arugula you’ve never heard of

If I could boil down my vegetable gardening advice to one sentence it would probably be: just grow stuff that does well and tastes good. Let some other schmuck fight aphids on those Brussels sprouts. Another bit of advice is that you can never have enough arugula. The stuff at the market is wilted, tasteless crap. Grow your own and you’ve got an incredible diversity of arugula varieties to choose from.

This year I grew two varieties from Franchi, Rucola Coltivata Sel. Ortolani and Rucola Selvatica A Foglia D’ulivo. Arugula falls into two categories, “wild” and “cultivated,” though since a seed company is cultivating and selling “wild” varieties it does seem strange to call them “wild”. It might be more accurate to describe them by taste with the cultivated varieties being mild tasting and the wild types being sharp and spicy. Plants in the Brassicaceae family such as arugula cross readily and there’s a befuddling array of popular names, but I think both of these varieties are Eruca sativa.

The Rucola Selvatica A Foglia D’Ulivo or olive leaf arugula has a much sharper, almost bitter flavor. It also doesn’t look like the cultivated varieties. Were it not for the distinctive taste, I wouldn’t even recognize the plant. The leaves are indeed shaped like olive leaves and the edible flowers are yellow rather than the usual off-white.

I sow blocks of arugula seed every two weeks in the winter to guarantee a continuous supply. We had some hot weather so it went to seed a little faster than usual. One of the reasons I like arugula is that there are no insect problems, at least here in Los Angeles.

My mom’s late Greek neighbor used to grow at least four varieties of arugula every year and treasured the different flavors. He also used to refer to arugula (and many other greens) as the “Greek Viagra.” There is, apparently, a history of the use of arugula as an aphrodisiac in Mediterranean cultures. According to some sources, you have to cut the arugula with lettuce (a calming plant) so that the salad bowl doesn’t lead too directly to the bedroom.

Find more arugula varieties at

Do you have a favorite arugula? As usual, I love hearing from our Italian readers about the special culinary uses of specific varieties. And, in this election year here in the US, I’m a little surprised that arugula has not come up as a campaign issue like it did in 2008.

077 Radical Mycology


Our guest this week is Peter McCoy. Peter is a self-taught mycologist with 15 years of accumulated study and experience, Peter is an original founder of Radical Mycology, a grassroots organization and movement that teaches the skills needed to work with mushrooms and other fungi for personal, societal, and ecological resilience. Peter is the lead cultivation expert for the Amazon Mycorenewal Project and Open Source Ecology and the primary author behind Radical Mycology, a nearly 700-page book on accessible mycology and mushroom cultivation. During the podcast we discuss:

  • What are fungi?
  • How to cultivate edible and medicinal mushrooms
  • How to establish a mushroom bed in your garden
  • Tempeh
  • Peter’s cultivation how-to videos
  • Growing mushrooms in an apartment
  • Easy to grow mushroom: King Stropharia
  • Source for spawn: Field and Forest
  • Plugs
  • Improving soil with fungi
  • Remediating soil
  • Peter’s new book Radical Mycology

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

[email protected]: “Shazam” for Plants

[email protected] is an iPhone and Android phone app that uses image recognition and crowd-sourcing to recognize plants. It’s free, so I downloaded a copy yesterday and ran around the yard to see how it works.

You take a closeup of a leaf, flower, fruit or bark and the app takes a guess on an identification. My first attempt was Nasturtium, which the app immediately identified despite my bad photo.  It also correctly identified daffodils and got close to identifying Malva parviflora. It was not able to identify any of the California natives I tried, but I don’t think the program has a database of these plants yet.

[email protected] is the work of four French research organizations who have a vision for a kind of expansive botanical citizen-science project. I can definitely see the potential for [email protected] to create a huge database to track biodiversity, the effects of climate change and the distribution of plant species.

Drone Flyover of the Root Simple Compound

Many thanks to Steve Rowell for dropping by last week with his drone and shooting our humble compound. I cobbled together a rough cut of some of the shots that show our house and the neighborhood. Look carefully and you’ll see our chicken coop, adobe oven, the small but growing new planting in our front yard and more. Plus those 100 foot Mexican Fan Palms!

Mosaic Artist Jeffrey Bale

Jeffrey Bale is one of my gardening heroes and this video is, in my opinion, mandatory viewing. Bale’s artistic medium is the pebble mosaic and he’s taken his craft to levels not seen since the ancients. Bale spends three months every year traveling the world and searching for inspiration for his work. His astonishingly beautiful and insightful blog chronicles his travels and work.

Bale captures what I think is missing in a lot of contemporary art and landscape design, a sense of the transcendent and the search for what philosopher Charles Taylor calls “fullness”. Our gardens and cities could benefit from many more spaces like the labyrinth portrayed in this short mini-doc. Best of all, in the video, Bale demonstrates how he makes his mosaics. Bale has no trade secrets. He wants us all to participate in creating a more beautiful world.