By Hwaa Irfan
Popularly known as ‘Rocket’ in English, the name goes back to its Latin origin eruca which means cabbage as in the same family of the plant kingdom that eruca sativa belongs to, the Brassicaceae. It is commonly known as True Rocket, Rocket Salada, Arugula, and Roquette or White Pepper (due to the peppery flavor of the leaves.
In the Mediterranean and elsewhere, the leaves, and sometimes the flowers have been used as a salad and in soups. In the Mediterranean, it has been used, and is still used as a potent aphrodisiac in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks who used the oil from the seed as well as the leaves. In the Middle East, the leaves have a stronger taste – known as ‘gargeer’ it is served with meat.
In industry, Eruca seed oil is used as alternative mineral oil as a lubricant, in soap-making, in massage, medicines, cooking and salad oils. The ‘cake’ from the production of the oil is used for cattle feed, and as mulch in manure. The fraction high erucic acid is added to polythene and polypropylene to reduce surface friction, and in printing inks.
Known as Ta mira in Urdu, Jamba oil in Hind, Eruca sativa is grown mainly for the oil in both Pakistan and Northern India. Eruca sativa is a low growing annual plant that anchors into the earth with its slender roots; invasive, its weed-like nature covers the ground quite quickly, preventing other weeds from growing. Known for its high tolerance to drought, it is native to Asia and the Mediterranean, it has become naturalized in undisturbed parts Western and Northern Europe like waste lands, on the shoulder of roads, and fallow fields. The plant has proven to be quite adaptive, liking light sandy, medium, heavy clay, and well drained soils.
It reaches out of the soil with stiff hairy branches bearing dandelion-like leaves on the lower level appearing more stalked than those on the upper level. The large, but few flowers compensate for its unappealing appearance, which can range in color from pale yellow to white, bearing deep violet veins. The fruits are cylindrical in shape, and the ovoid seeds are yellowish brown to reddish brown. Eruca likes full sun from midday in the summer months.
Eruca sativa is grown commercially in Portugal, which exports it to Northern European countries. When buying eruca sativa essential oil, look out for that distinctive pungent, yet aromatic aroma, which increases with the age of the leaf. It does not exactly have a pleasant smell, so if one has a pleasant aroma in mind, this is not the essential oil to obtain. Hence, the young leaves are preferred, which tend to smell more like watercress.
Eruca sativa essential oil contains over 67 compounds, which includes:
- Isothiocyanates (the distinctive ingredient over other varieties)
- 4-Methylthiobutyl isothiocyanate
- 5-Methylthiopentyl isothiocyanate
- cis-3-hexenyl butanoate
- cis-3-hexenyl 2-methylbutanoate
- C22:1 (cis-13-docosenoic acid (erucic acid/ erucamide)
- Butane, Hexane, Octane, Nonane
- Palmitic acid
- Oleic fatty acid
- Linolenic fatty acid
- Vitamins C, A, K and P
Hydrogenated Erucamide is used in cosmetics as an emollient , Methylsulphinylbutyl isothiocyanate is an glucosinolate which induces enzymes which have anticancer activity. Research by Dr. Syed Rafatullah, Saudi Arabia, identified the anti gastric ulcer properties of Eruca sativa, and research at the Institute of Botany, Pakistan, discovered an extract of Eruca seed oil to be a good antifungal agent against Spadicoides stoveri, and Paecilomyces variotii, and a good antibacterial agent against Enterobacter agglumerans and Hafnia alvei.
The therapeutic properties identified so far are:
For glossary see It All Makes Good Scents!
The stimulant property uplifts the body as a whole, including the mind, acting as a tonic to hair, the sexual organs, and the liver in particular . The essential oil is effective in mild bacterial and fungal infections, and being rich in Vitamin C counteracts scurvy. The oil acts on the kidneys promoting the flow of urine, and counters any irritation of the skin. The Vitamin K content helps to strengthen bones, and promote bone growth.
Eruca sativa essential oil from the seeds has been used in some South Asian countries for head lice, and dandruff though be it very irritating to the scalp. This is done by massaging the oil onto the scalp and hair, and leaving the oil in for up to 2 hours before shampooing.
It can cause burning sensation on the skin.
The oil can only be used for external use, and when used it should be diluted by means of Carrier Oils like Sweet Almond Oil. Drops of no more than 5 should be used for:
- Low Libido
- Poor indigestion, bacterial and fungal infections
- Sluggish liver, metabolism, digestive system
- Water retention
- A head steam bath – head and chest infections
- Added to bath water – softens the skin, head cold infections,
- Added to water for household cleaning
- Massage – wet skin first, massage in a circular motion, then pat dry.
Alqasoumi S, et al “Eruca Sativa “: A Salad Herb with Potential Gastric Anti-ulcer Activity.” World Journal of Gastroenterology 2009; 15(16): 1958-1965
Bennett, R.N. et al. “Ontogenic Profiling of Glucosinolates, Flavonoids, and Other Secondary Metabolites in Eruca sativa (Salad Rocket), Diplotaxis erucoides (Wall Rocket), Diplotaxis tenuifolia (Wild Rocket), and Bunias orientalis (Turkish Rocket).” http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf052756t
“Eruca (Rocket.” http://www.ienica.net/crops/eruca.pdf
Grubben. G. “Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 2: Vegetables.” PROTA. Netherlands. 2004.
Rani, I, et al. “Antimicrobial Potential of Seed Extract of Eruca Sativa.” Institute of Botany. University of Sindh Jamshoro, Pakistan. Pak. J. Bot., 42(4): 2949-2953, 2010.
“Rocket (Eruca Sativa L.).” http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Eruc_sat.html