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.

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  1. Arugula has (literally) taken on weed status in my Oakland CA garden! It’s crazy! In clearing my beds (and around my beds) last week, I had enough for a huge salad, and there’s still plenty more. It self-seeds. Definitely a natural for my climate. Totally agree about your gardening advice too – figure out what does well in your climate, that you like, and grow lots of that. I also factor in value to some degree – potatoes and onions are cheap to buy and I’d never be able to keep up with my needs by gardening anyway, so I don’t bother. On the other hand, good tomatoes are expensive to buy at the store and not nearly as good as fresh, so although I do baby my plants a bit, I feel like I get good value. Greens and herbs are super easy to grow, do great in my cool-summer climate, and it’s so convenient to grow your own. So that’s a great value for my time.

  2. I just sowed some wasabi arugula, which was too intriguing to pass up.

    This has been a great winter for greens here in Oakland. The spinach I planted in fall is still robust and not giving way to the aphids.

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