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Arugula: rocket science in green leaves

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Today, this leafy green vegetable is normally marketed under the name arugula; but from ages immeasurable it has been also known (and often is yet) as salad rocket, or garden rocket, often just plain old rocket. Long before that word had the connotation it now holds as a missile bound for other worlds, it meant a lot to people here on earth, as a bearer of health rather than payloads, astronauts, or as a weapon. It has always, however, borne plenty of power where healing and nutrition are concerned.

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As with any green, arugula has the qualities of the dark-colored edible plants, that is, antioxidants galore. This helps fight free radicals, which are responsible for such problems as cellular aging, cancer and lessened immunity. The leaves are considered valuable for their antiviral and antibiotic effects. Rich in Vitamin C, this plant has been long valued in the fight against scurvy, the enemy of sailors and others far from citrus availability. Since this plant has always been easy to grow in many climates it has not been necessary to import arugula from far-away lands, but can adapt to any home garden quite readily. Potent also in Vitamin A, it holds importance as well for those wishing to keep their eyes healthy, including for night vision. Vitamin K, although lesser-known, is of great value in the ability of blood to clot, and is another benefit of this little cruciferous plant.

The B-complex vitamins, too, are found in arugula, which are an essential part of a nutritious diet. Without them, the body’s various functions simply cannot operate; skin, hair, nails, nerves and other tissues will suffer. Since many people today eschew whole grain foods, a source containing the majority of B-vitamins in a tasty form can help meet the requirements to maintain health and help young bodies develop. Iron, folic acid (crucial during pregnancy to avoid birth defects such as spina bifida), calcium, potassium and phosphorus are some of the other nutrients today’s Western diet typically lacks, which the leaves of garden rocket readily supply.

Just as in the case of arugula’s more well-known relatives such as spinach, mustard and kale, there is a load of fiber packed into the tiny green leaves. Whether you seek this roughage to regulate your digestive system or to help control your blood sugar and weight, you will find an abundance of it in a form easily chewed, unlike the tougher forms of leafy veggies. Either raw or cooked, the slender, thin leaves can be added to salads, as their alternate name suggests, or tossed into a soup pot, even layered in sandwiches. Some people even prefer their rocket raw by the handful as a low-calorie snack. For those with gastric ulcers and other digestive acid-related problems, arugula has been considered for hundreds of years as a remedy for such ailments. It has the ability to suppress gastric acids to a degree, lessening their painful repercussions.

Phytonutrients like isothiocyanates and sulforaphane contribute to health as well for those fond of arugula. These natural chemicals are known to counteract some undesirable qualities of estrogen (and phytoestrogens) which can lead to various forms of cancer, particularly of the female reproductive organs.

On the whole, arugula is now becoming a more trendy green, more coveted by those who see fitness and healthy eating as part of a fashion statement. Rather than the chewiness of kale or cabbage, along with the (sometimes) gassiness these vegetables can produce, arugula is taking its place in upscale restaurants and “green” stores. It is usually found packaged, pre-washed, and needs no tearing, shredding, chopping or even cooking, for those also following the raw food path. How long this will last is not foreseeable; however, it’s a great idea to pursue while prices tend to be low (like $1.99 for a small bag of organic wild rocket, recently at Trader Joe’s). In other words: rock it!

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