Broad bean(Vicia faba)

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Origin of the name

The origin of the name is old in the Latin world. The Romans used to celebrate the fabarias, a religious festival in which broad beans used to play a specific role. It is not certain whether the prestigious name of the Fabios derives from faba, or vice versa, but in any event one of the most noble Roman families was clearly linked to this species. It was in the Roman world, moreover, that table beans were selected for fresh consumption. The Romans expanded the typically Mediterranean cultivation through their legions, since the seed was used not only for human consumption but also for feeding horses. The Celts, in turn, spread it through the central and Atlantic regions of Europe, to the point that, in some cases, it became known as Celtic grain.

Present situation

On the coast and in the kitchen gardens, the situation of broad beans (Vicia faba) coincides with that of the old beans (cowpeas) and with that of the new beans (judías, alubias, etc.). Both were replaced by the former in regions which were a little colder, with lesser rainfall and, in particular, where winter and not summer rains occurred. Broad beans may not need irrigation above 400 mm of precipitation although, obviously, production is to a certain extent dependent on the water they receive. As regards their place in cooking, broad beans, haricot beans and cowpeas have been part of culinary preparations that still exist in traditional dishes. For example, the very popular Asturian fabada is made with fabes, which had to be broad beans, the usual name up to 100 or 200 years ago, but which nowadays designates certain varieties of haricot bean.

It is with broad beans that dual use of the legume also began - both for human consumption and for animal feeding - which is unthinkable with Vigna and Phaseolus, and not only in the Spanish agricultural environment. Broad beans have known every type of use: in this respect, they could be the model of grain legumes. In Spain, they are not at present eaten in the form of whole seeds and boiled with meat and animal fat, but in the recent past they were still prepared in this way (for example, in fabada), as in the case of chickpeas, haricot beans and lentils. In other countries, where the shortage of proteins makes it necessary to use those that exist for human consumption, broad beans continue to be eaten like this, just as grain legumes have generally speaking always been eaten. Where there are other sources of proteins, the use of broad beans has been diversified. Some traditional varieties, of which those of Iberian origin - particularly the Aguadulce - stand out because of their quality, have been earmarked for fresh consumption, both as seeds and as whole pods. These are kitchen garden broad beans for direct sale on the market, which in recent times have been prepared as preserved foods. These varieties, which are free of bitter ingredients, are sweet and mild tasting. Those without these characteristics have continued to be fed to animals; of these, types suitable for horses have been selected (which botanists have called Caballares in Spanish, Horse beans in English and Equina in Latin) and others for pigs (called Cochineras, Tick beans or Minor). The division between them (for reasons of convenience in work) has been so great that it is even reflected in separate agronomic and plant improvement categories. The same situation applies in the case of the garden pea.

During collection of the germplasm at the beginning of the 1980s, it was possible to gather together over 1 000 specimens of local populations with a high representation of the types for human consumption, as was to have been expected owing to the reduction observed in those for feedstuffs. Of the grain legumes suitable for animal feeding, broad beans are included among those that suffered most with the arrival of machinery and industrial feedstuffs. Broad beans were the basic feedstuff for horses and oxen and were strong competitors of chickpeas for feeding pigs. The 1973 energy crisis and the rise in the price of American soybeans that same year aroused new interest in the species, not only because of its possibilities as an animal feedstuff, but also for its role in fixing atmospheric nitrogen. ICARDA took charge of it; the EEC subsidized projects in various areas of agronomy and animal feeding, research and working meetings. The exchange of information produced excellent results in broad beans as a feedstuff, and satisfactory results in horticultural broad beans. Private undertakings in particular took charge of the latter. It should be mentioned that there was an interesting transfer of horticultural varieties to the extensive cultivation varieties, given the importance of broad beans in the human diet throughout North Africa and in other countries such as the Sudan and Ethiopia.

At present, there are numerous kitchen garden and feedstuff varieties. The former have been selected from local races, of which the English Windsor and the Italian Policoro deserve mention and, among the Spanish, Muchamiel, Ramillete and, in particular, Aguadulce, which has invaded all the cultivating countries (France, the United Kingdom and Italy), where it is known by this name as well as by the name Seville and others. As a general defect of the species, it should be mentioned that it does not have any commercial types of highly productive determined growth. Although suitable mutants are available and an attempt is being made to introduce them into better cultivars, high-yield mechanical harvesting (which is carried out with peas and haricot beans) is still not feasible.

As regards broad beans intended for animal feeding, the numerous tests carried out by the EEC and by ICARDA have made it possible to obtain numerous high-yield varieties that are competitive with other grains, including cereals. The broad bean cultivation technique, which was very primitive even up to 20 years ago, is now suited to a modem cultivation. Even for its traditional enemies (broomrape [Orobanche sp.] in the Mediterranean countries and chocolate spot [Botrytis fabae] in the humid climate of Europe) genes have been identified which have effective resistance.

Prospects for improvement

There continues to be a reduction in the cultivated area of broad beans grown for feedstuffs in the European countries, particularly in Spain. There are many reasons for this: the abandonment of traditional cultivation lands; a lack of demand on the part of the compound feedstuffs industries; better profitability of other crops, especially those subsidized by the EEC; etc. The situation is odd, since plant material exists which has been obtained both by public institutions and private undertakings and there is sufficient technical knowledge to achieve a profitable crop. On the one hand, there is no adequate information service for the grower and, on the other hand, there is not a sufficient homogeneous supply for the industrialist. The latter obtains other raw materials more easily and in greater quantities. With a slightly better treatment on the part of the EEC authorities, or if an actual small increase in yield were achieved for the grower, and with a more efficient organization of the supply, the problem could be solved. Otherwise, the attraction that broad bean cultivation still has for the grower particularly in cases of crisis with other crops may disappear.

The trade in market garden broad beans is showing a slight market growth and an increase in the interest shown by commercial undertakings which, in some countries (the United Kingdom, for example), have incorporated genes of agronomic importance (determined growth, absence of tannins, resistance). These factors could turn the broad bean into an industrial market garden crop in a short time. The quality of some industrialized products and good acceptance by the consumer allow one to assume that market garden broad beans still have vast prospects. The role played by the Aguadulce varieties in this process should not prevent other local races from being introduced into the work of improvers, industrialists and traders, particularly Ramillete and Muchamiel.

Chickpea (Cicer arietinum)

Origin of the name

The Latin cicer gives the words Cicero, pods chiche, chickpea and the Spanish word "chícharo", which seems to have been a fairly common name for dry seeds of legumes, including some Lathyrus species. The Spanish word "garbanzo" therefore seems to be a pre-Roman indigenous name, since it has no connection with either the Greek or Arabic. The antiquity of the crop in Spain seems evident.

Present situation

In climates that are too dry, broad beans are replaced by chickpeas, which have the additional advantage of a short cycle (from March to June: autumn sowing is a recent introduction).

As in the case of broad beans, chickpeas have been used for human consumption and for animal feeding, particularly cattle and pigs. Modem studies have revealed the high biological value of the chickpea in animal feeding, which is the equivalent without any industrial treatment, for example, to suitably processed soya cakes. Moreover, as in the case of broad beans, the dual use in feeding has caused a clear varietal separation, particularly in the we stem Mediterranean: white or cream-coloured seeds, very large and wrinkled for human consumption; seeds of varying colour, shape and size (but never very big) and appearance for feedstuffs. The difference affects the cooking time and palatability, the former being easy to cook and having a smooth texture and mild flavour, unlike the latter. This is a consequence of culinary use: in the countries of the western Mediterranean basin, chickpeas continue to be eaten cooked and whole; the representative dishes could be the Spanish cocido where the seed is accompanied by meat, animal fat and various vegetables, as in the case of other legumes; and the North African couscous in which it is added to durum wheat semolina and also meat and vegetables. In other regions, it is first of all converted into flour, either to obtain a paste with oil and other condiments (in the eastern Mediterranean), or mixed with other flours to make various types of bread (on the Indian subcontinent).

There are excellent varieties for all these uses. In Spain the quality of the Andalusian "milky whites" and of the Leonese "pedrosillano" (both local races and not cultivars) has enabled them to spread to other areas for cultivation or for use by improvers. Agronomic techniques have for their part developed to the level required of a modem agriculture, and a genuine revolution has even been achieved in this cultivation, with varieties being obtained which are suitable for autumn sowing; are resistant to Ascochyta sp. and frost; and which, by utilizing winter rainfall more efficiently, double and sometimes quadruple production. The winter chickpea was bred by ICARDA and the new technology rapidly spread to all producer countries. Its advantages are considerable but ill-informed growers and technical experts often sow in the autumn with local varieties which, since they are not genetically prepared for this, may end up disappearing because of the low temperatures and Ascochyta sp. attacks.

Prospects for improvement

In spite of the high price received by the grower for quality chickpeas, it is difficult to explain the reduction in area which is also occurring in the case of this crop. In addition, considerable shortcomings are being noted in marketing. Industrialists complain of the absence of a sufficient, homogeneous supply, which obliges them to resort to imports from Mexico, the United States (California) and Chile. Mexican imports began not less than 20 years ago for political reasons relating to trade. As imported chickpeas were clearly of Spanish descent, similar to the milky whites, introduction on to the market was easy. The imported quantities have for a long time exceeded those produced in the country, which is surprising at a time when new profitable crops are being sought.

Some 40 years ago, Puerta Romero collected about 600 specimens from all over Spain. Ten years ago, he once again collected a similar number, but the genetic richness had suffered a considerable loss: almost all were chickpeas for human consumption whereas, in the first collection, there were splendid examples of chickpeas for animal feedstuffs, but which were lost - as has been shown in so many other collections made by Puerta Romero - as a result of the negligence and ignorance of the agricultural research bodies. At present, the improvement plans for chickpeas for cooking and those for use in the feedstuffs industry and in the food industry in general, as well as the intervention of public and private institutions, suggest that the major local races will be saved and that the crop should be protected from further risks through a good advisory service and adequate marketing. In the case of the developing countries, ICARDA and ICRISAT have succeeded in promoting cultivation worldwide with new varieties and agronomic techniques.

Lentil (Lens culinaris)

Origin of the name

The derivation from the Latin lens is common to European languages.

Present situation

There is no legume more resistant below 350 mm of precipitation and in the coldest climates: the lentil replaces all the others in these conditions. It accompanies barley, which it leaves behind below 250 mm, when it is no longer possible to speak of agriculture in the strict sense. Like the chickpea, it has practically no antinutritional factors except for ingredients which cause flatulence but which are easily tolerated, particularly in the extreme conditions in which it is usually an essential foodstuff.

Its great resistance to severe conditions and its value as a food explain why lentil seed is not used in animal feeding. For the latter purpose, other legumes are used with seeds that are as hard but of lesser value to man because of their antinutritional constituents. These include the one-leaved vetch (V. monanthos), bitter vetch (V. ervilia), chickling vetch and vetchling (Lathyrus sativus and L. cicera) and perhaps some others, as old as agriculture itself and in a permanent state of semi-domestication (see previous chapter).

Nowadays, it is not an essential food in Spain, although it is in other parts of the world (ICARDA also concerns itself with the lentil at this level). In Spain, it is consumed in the traditional way as a grain legume: cooked in a mixture with meat and various accompaniments. It continues to be a valued dish, particularly in the case of quality lentils, such as the Verdinas varieties.

Up to ten years ago, the lentil was a crop in the ascendant, the only grain legume to be so in the country. The reason for this was its good quality and considerable acceptance by the consumer. Agronomic techniques had improved but not the varieties, of which only the local races were known. Around 250 specimens were able to be collected, particularly from the northwest of the Castilian plateau, approximately the same and, for once, with the same variation as those represented in Puerta Romero's collections from the 1950s. However, marketing difficulties have meant that, in recent years, the area is also in regression. Imports from Turkey, Chile and recently also from the United States have brought about this change. In this case, it was exclusively a problem of prices. It is regrettable that, in order to promote an imported product, for example, it was even announced that Turkish lentils contained more proteins and were of a better quality for cooking than Spanish lentils. In the case of North American lentils, the way was opened up by the excellent organization of the producers of the northwestern United States. Spanish growers did not know how to react to the sales drives of the imported product.

Prospects for improvement

Contrary to what has happened in the case of closely related species, genetic improvement work on the Spanish lentil has been very limited and has lacked institutional support. It is essential to continue, nevertheless, with the aim of obtaining more productive high-yield cultivars, particularly from the local race Verdinas. This would prevent the import of foreign cultivars, which are accepted because of the absence of Spanish material since, in spite of everything, the crop continues to be profitable. Otherwise, the indigenous material will diminish irremediably.

The improvements in agrarian techniques are also due to private initiatives, which have managed to solve even the problem of mechanization. In Spain, the crop is not affected by pests (the weevil only attacks poorly tended crops) or diseases (except for slight damage caused by fusarium disease). However, elsewhere no resistance has been found against the broomrape (Orobanche sp.).

In actual fact, growers are concerned only with prices, imports and marketing.

Pea (Pisum sativum)

Origin of the name

As in the case of the chickpea, the Spanish use a completely original word for this species. The Latin pisum has given rise to the names by which the chickpea is known in most of the European languages.

Present situation

Peas are grown over a greater area than that of any other grain legume. They are suited to both kitchen gardens and to semi-arid cold zones. They are not far from reaching the limits of the arid and subtropical zones where lentils and cowpeas, respectively, are grown. Being a legume typical of the Near Eastern agricultural complex, the pea was for centuries intensively bred throughout Europe as a green table grain (and pod) in a similar way to broad beans, subsisting in regions with difficult environmental conditions because it was hardier than the latter. However, unlike broad beans, at the time of the new agriculture propitiated by the industrial revolution (eighteenth century), table peas (i.e. for fresh consumption) were already firmly established in countries that were industrialized early. Unlike broad beans, forms with determined growth were known since the sixteenth century at least, which enabled them to be harvested mechanically whenever this was possible and facilitated their conversion to an extensive horticultural crop. In this connection, the process followed in the case of peas was similar to that of haricot beans.

Dried peas which, like broad beans, are now beginning to be known as products (and wrongly named "fodder" instead of "feed" or simply "seed"), are no longer used for human consumption in Europe, although there have been regions where they were eaten in the traditional way until not long ago. They are still eaten in this way in some Mediterranean areas, although they were never as popular in this respect as lentils, chickpeas, broad beans and haricot beans.

This species has a twofold use (for human consumption and as animal feed), with consequent varietal specialization. Garden peas which are branching or which have determined growth are in big demand. In Spain, hardly any more local races remain, except for various Tirabeques (frequently of unknown origin, rather than indigenous, because of the remote source of imports). Instead there are cultivars that are bred to a greater or lesser extent, mainly of European or American origin. Numerous private and public institutions are undertaking improvement work throughout the developed world, particularly of the dwarf types suitable for mechanical harvesting. Industry incorporated them from the beginning of agricultural mechanization and since the canning industry began rapid expansion. They share this advantageous situation with haricot beans, intended for the same purpose.

Fodder peas have a very different history. Not having had the popularity of other legumes, either for human consumption or as animal feed, they have suffered competition from all of them, since they do not occupy a specific ecological niche that enables them to be the only one possible or the most suitable. Their populations were abandoned by improvers and agronomists after they had taken from them the best of their genetic content for their market gardens. Being a hardy crop, they have resisted the worst soils but, when these were abandoned, they perished with them. It is not surprising that, in the collection of grain legumes made in the early 1980s, the number of samples of peas used in feedstuffs did not even reach 100. No predominant local race is known, and there is considerable genetic poverty in this type of pea in Spain.

Prospects for improvement

It would be appropriate to plant peas on land where there is a requirement for a plant for animal feed, where neither winter broad beans nor chickpeas are able to survive owing to the harshness of the climate and where an autumn-sown crop is needed: the Castilian plateau would be a suitable region for this crop. It is there that the first two Spanish cultivars were bred, and which have thus come into competition with the few foreign cultivars which have been introduced.

The genetic richness of the species is bound to allow rapid improvement since there are no major pests to control (except damage caused by Pseudomonas sp.).

Once the appropriate cultivars have been obtained, a rational supply will have to be secured for the feedstuffs industry: peas for animal feeding are of excellent quality. In fact, after the 1973 crisis, the EEC considered the pea as priority protein species, along with broad beans and lupine.


Three conclusions can be drawn from the experience provided by grain legumes for human consumption: the first is that genetic erosion has been and remains extensive and has occurred in relatively few years. The second is that this erosion was the consequence of the world being separated into two parts; one developed and the other developing. The former accepted, conserved, multiplied and improved the species that were suited to agriculture with a largely technological basis. The abandonment by scientists and technical experts of the other species resulted in their being lost insofar as consumption was concerned. However, definitive abandonment was due to a poor agricultural policy and, in particular, deficient marketing.


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CIAT. 1985. Potential for field beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) in West Asia and North Africa. Cali, Colombia.

Cubero, J.I. & Moreno, M.T., eds. 1983. Las leguminosas de grano. Madrid, Mundi Prensa.

Cubero, J.I. & Saxena, M.C., eds. 1991. Present status and future prospects of faba bean production and improvement in the Mediterranean countries. Zaragoza, Spain, CIHEAM/IAMZ.

Hawtin, G. & Webb, C., eds. 1982. Faba bean improvement. The Hague, the Netherlands, Martinus Nijhoff.

Hebblethwaite, P.D., ed. 1982. The faba bean. London, Butterworths.

Hebblethwaite, P.D., ed. 1985. The pea. London, Butterworths.

ICRISAT.1990. Chickpea in the nineties. Proc. Second Int. Workshop on Chickpea Improvement. Patancheru, India.

Jambunathan, R. & Rajan, V., eds.1989. Consultants' meeting on uses of grain legumes. Patancheru, India.

Mateo Box, J.M. 1961. Las leguminosas de grano. Barcelona, Spain, Salvat.

Osman, A.E., Ibrahim, M.H. & Jones, M.A. 1990. The role of legumes in the farming systems of the Mediterranean areas. Dordrecht, the Netherlands, Kluwer Academic.

Puerta Romero, J. 1961. Variedades de judía cultivadas en España. Madrid, INIA.

Roberts, E. & Summerfield, RJ., eds. 1986. Grain legume crops. London, Granada Technical Books.

Saxena, M.C. & Singh, K.B., eds.1987. Chickpea. London, CAB International.

Saxena, M.C., Cubero, J.I. & Wery, J., eds. 1990. Present status and future prospects of chickpea crop production and improvement in the Mediterranean countries. Options méditerranéennes. Série A: Séminaires méditerranéens, No. 9. Zaragoza, Spain, CIHEAM/ ECC/ICARDA.

Summerfield, R.J., ed.1986. World crops: cool season food legumes. Dordrecht, the Netherlands, Kluwer Academic.

Summerfield, RJ. & Bunting, A.H., eds.1980. Advances in legume science. Kew, United Kingdom, Royal Botanical Gardens.

Thompson, R., ed.1981. Vicia faba L.: Physiology and breeding factorial analysis of yield components. The Hague, the Netherlands, Martinus Nijhoff.

Webb, C. & Hawtin, G., eds. 1981. Lentils. London, CAB International.

Neglected horticultural crops

Rocket (Eruca saliva)
Garden cress (Lepidium sativum)
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)
Scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica)
Spotted golden thistle (Scolymus maculatus)
Spanish salsify (Scolymus hispanicus)

In the chapter on the processes and causes of the marginalization of Iberian crops, more than 20 horticultural crops are mentioned which could be considered to be in this situation. The authors have selected eight which will be dealt with in detail. Selection was based on a stricter identification of their marginalized nature and choosing from various taxonomic groups that would allow a detailed view of the problem.

Rocket (Eruca saliva), garden cress (Lepidium sativum), purslane (Portulaca oleracea), borage (Borago officinalis), alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), scorzonera or black salsify (Scorzonera hispanica), spotted golden thistle (Scolymus maculatus) and Spanish salsify or Spanish oyster plant (Scolymus hispanicus) are the eight species selected.

Rocket (Eruca saliva)

Botanical name: Eruca sativa Miller
Family: Brassicaceae = Cruciferae
Common names. English: rocket, salad rocket, garden rocket; Spanish: oruga, oruga común, eruca, roqueta común; Catalan: ruqueta; Basque: bekarki; Portuguese: eruca, rúcula, fedorenta, pinchão (Brazil); French: roquette

Origin of the name

The semantic origin of this plant's name alludes to the oldest crops of the Near East. The Persian girgir and Acadian gingiru gave the Aramaic, Hebrew and Syrian gargira, and from these the Arabic yiryir and Latin eruca, from which, through Spanish, the words "roqueta" and "oruga" of present-day Spanish appeared.

Properties and uses

This plant is considered to be an excellent stoma chic, stimulant and aphrodisiac, and is also used as a diuretic and antiscorbutic. The leaves have a bitter flavour which is made milder by cooking or frying. The seeds are hot, although rather less so than mustard seeds. It contains glucosides, such as allyl sulphocyanate, mineral salts and vitamin C. The oil of the seed contains erucic acid.

Rocket was always considered to be a potent aphrodisiac. In classic antiquity, it was consecrated to Priapus and was planted at the foot of the statue of this deity dedicated to the procreative potential of males. Dioscorides warns that, eaten raw, it stimulates lust and that the seeds have the same power. Columela also refers to its sexually stimulating effect, but is also very well acquainted with its cultivation technique: " ...and rocket and basil also remain in the place where they have been sown and require no other care than manuring and weeding. Moreover, they can be sown not only in autumn, but also in spring...." The Hispano-Romans also compared the aphrodisiac power of rocket precisely with the anaphrodisiac power of lettuce. In Hispano-Visigoth culture, Isidoro de Sevilla supports the use and knowledge of this plant's powers: "... rocket is, so to speak, inflammatory, since it has burning properties and, if consumed frequently in the diet, arouses the sexual appetite. There are two species, one of which is in habitual use while the other is wild with a more bitter taste. Both stimulate sexual appetite."

Irrespective of these effects, rocket has been eaten basically as a vegetable (leaves) and as a spice (leaves and seeds). It is thus an ingredient of "misticanza" (mixed salad), a speciality eaten in Rome since the very foundation of that city. Hispano-Arab agronomists also mention its cultivation, for instance Ibn Hayyay (eleventh century), Ibn Wafid (eleventh and twelfth century) and, of course, Ibn al-Awwam (twelfth century). The latter author mentions the plant's use as a flavouring for musts and syrups, the seed being ground and scattered over the surface of the earthenware jars containing the syrup. He also mentions its flowers being used in a similar way. In the sixteenth century, Alonso de Herrera's Tratado de agricultura contains no mention of rocket.

It is used to make sauces in which the leaves are mixed with sugar or honey, vinegar and toasted bread (rocket sauce). In Italy, it is eaten boiled with spaghetti, and then seasoned with garlic and oil. In Spain, it is traditionally used in La Roda and Montealegre del Castillo (Albacete) in the preparation of gazpachos of La Mancha, an ancestral dish which includes the meat of partridge and rabbit and unleavened bread (gazpacho), with lightly fried rocket. Some authors relate this tradition to primitive fertility rituals.

Nowadays it still remains very much appreciated in various countries of the Mediterranean area, including Italy, Greece and Turkey, where it is eaten mainly in salads and as a garnish for meat. It goes very well with lettuce, chicory, valerian and tomato. Another recipe is potato and rocket salad. In India, it is cultivated to obtain a semi drying oil from the seeds. At present, most of the rocket grown is for this purpose, and it is considered mainly as a potential oilseed product.

This plant's marginalization as a vegetable in Spain may have been very much connected with its condemnation because of its aphrodisiac properties.

Botanical description

Rocket is an annual herbaceous plant, growing up to 80 cm. The basal leaves occur in a rosette and are lyrate-pinnatifid (those normally eaten in salads); the caulinar leaves are lobulate or dentate. The flowers have white or light yellow petals. The siliquae measure up to 40 mm, are erect, attached to the stem, with a subcylindrical valvar portion and an ensiform face as long as the valves. The seeds measure 1.5 to 2.5 mm and are brown.

The wild form flowers from February to June and the cultivated form right into mid-summer. It is allogamous with a complex system of self incompatibility, mainly gametophytic, but with some alleles acting sporophytically. The existence of genie male sterility has been verified. The chromosome pattern is 2n = 2x = 22.

Ecology and phytogeography

Rocket grows spontaneously in places modified by humans: abandoned gardens, waysides, tips and among rubble. It prefers hot, dry climates.

It is distributed all around the Mediterranean, extending to central Europe in the north and as far as Afghanistan and northern India in the east. It has reverted to the wild state in North America, South Africa and Australia. Vavilov described it in central Asia, the Near East and the Mediterranean, the latter being considered its main centre of origin.

It is cultivated mainly in India, and is grown more rarely in Turkey and Greece. It is also cultivated in Italy. In countries such as Spain, France and Great Britain, cultivation is rare.

Figure 37 Horticulture crops: A) rocket (Eruca sativa), detail of fruit in the silicle; B) garden cress (Lepidium sativum), detail of fruit in the silicle; C) purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Genetic diversity

The biggest collections of rocket germplasm are to be found at the Institute of Germplasm in Bari, Italy, at the NBPGR in New Delhi, India, at the Haryana Agricultural University in India and at the VIR in St Petersburg.

There are also smaller collections in Kabul in Afghanistan, Saskatoon in Canada, Gaersleben and Braunschweig in Germany, Tapioszele in Hungary, Islamabad in Pakistan, Blonie in Poland and Alnarp in Sweden. A small collection of species of Eruca, including E. saliva, is to be found at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and there is also germplasm from wild populations of the genus at the Córdoba Botanical Garden.

Collecting expeditions have continued. In 1985, 25 samples of indigenous germplasm of E. sativa were collected in the northeastern Sudan.

In an analysis using the D2 statistic of Mahalanobis, out of 99 lines of rocket no correlation was found between genetic diversity for 12 characters associated with production and geographical origin.

There is wide variability as regards the characters of the siliqua and its stability, and a strong interaction with the cultivation conditions. Similarly, there is wide genetic variability for seed production per plant and related characters.

An important group of studies is attempting to use E. sativa as a genetic resource for improving other crucifers. In this way, intergeneric hybrids have been obtained with Raphanus sativus, Brassica campestris and B. oleracea. Somatic hybrids have been obtained through the fusion of protoplasts with B. napus and B. juncea,

There are lines of rocket (T27) known which are resistant to mustard aphid and tolerant of several stress conditions as well as Fusarium oxysporum. Such lines may also be a source of genes that are transferable to species of Brassica.

Cultivation practices

Rocket is a very hardy plant which requires little care. It is generally sown direct in late winter or early spring, in shallow furrows. To encourage emergence, it is advisable to cover with light sieved soil. It requires little irrigation and manuring. It is usually hoed by hand.

The young leaves are harvested in spring.

Prospects for improvement

The use of rocket as a vegetable, salad or spice has been marginalized, possibly for moral or religious reasons, and its recovery is limited by local gastronomic tradition, which is not always able to appreciate its characteristic bitter flavour. This is due to glucosinolates and the high content of mineral salts.

The development of cultivars with a low allyl sulphocyanate content does not appear to be an improvement objective since, even though the plant would be rendered innocuous, it would lose its individual identity.

In fact, a wide variability has been observed as regards both erucic acid content and glucosinolate content in 128 rocket specimens from Pakistan. Rocket already has a low content of these constituents, and the local inhabitants clearly distinguish this species from other more bitter crucifers. Its use can be increased only through the promotion of the traditional dishes in which it appears.

The use of agronomic techniques such as nitrogen fertilization and shading would enable younger, more juicy rosettes to be obtained which have a milder taste and are more palatable.

The work on genetic improvement for the use of "rocket" as a vegetable is very limited, if we exclude the development of in vitro cultivation, which has made it possible to regenerate normal diploid plants from isolated protoplasts of leaf mesophyll.

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