Arugula is a type of leaf vegetable, and although often mistaken for a sort of lettuce, is, in fact, an herb, and a member of the mustard family. Arugula is a wonderful herb enjoyed raw in salads. It has a very distinct peppery and rhubarb flavor. It works well in warm salads too.
Arugula is especially used in salads, but also cooked as a vegetable with pasta or dry meat. In Italy, its use for pizzas is also common; in this case, it is added only after baking. It is sometimes used as an ingredient in pesto, either in addition to basil or as a (non-traditional) substitute. It is rich in vitamin C and iron.
Grown as an edible herb in the Mediterranean area since Roman times, it was mentioned by various classical authors as an aphrodisiac, most famously in a poem long ascribed to Virgil, Moretum, which contains the line: “et Venerem revocans eruca morantem” (“and the rocket, which revives drowsy Venus [sexual desire]”). Some writers assert that for this reason during the Middle Ages it was forbidden to grow rocket in monasteries. It was listed, however, in a decree by Charlemagne of 802 as one of the pot herbs suitable for growing in gardens. Gillian Riley, author of the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, states that because of its reputation as a sexual stimulant, it was “prudently mixed with lettuce, which was the opposite” (i.e., calming or even soporific). Riley continues that “nowadays rocket is enjoyed innocently in mixed salads, to which it adds a pleasing pungency.”