Sunday, April 17, 2011

The rockets

The white wall rocket which is also known as the white mustard, ġarġir abjad in Maltese, is a very common annual plant with small white flowers. 

It can be seen from early autumn to late spring in disturbed soils especially in fields. The closely related perennial wall rocket (ġarġir isfar) has yellow flowers. Were it not for the fact that both species grow in large numbers, sometimes covering whole patches of ground, they would easily be overlooked.

The rockets belong to the crucifer family, an important family which is sometimes also known as the mustard or cabbage family. The name crucifer means “cross-bearing” because the flowers have four petals arranged in the shape of a cross. 

Members of this family can be found growing on most continents especially in northern temperate regions although their stronghold are the countries surrounding the Mediterranean. 

The crucifer family consists of about 3,700 species among which are several that have been selectively bred to produces several vegetables including cabbages, turnips, radishes and rapeseed. The stocks (ġiżi) also form part of this family. Some species are also of medicinal importance.

One species in this family has been cultivated for a very long time and has been selectively bred into so many varieties that it now provides ten of the most common vegetables. These include the cabbages, cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and broccoli among others. 

These vegetables are recommended as healthy foods because they are rich in vitamin C and soluble fibres as well as many nutrients and other chemicals which are known to have anti-cancer properties.

The best known species, the cabbage, is one of the oldest vegetables. In Greek times it was believed that the cabbage plant sprouted form the perspiration of Zeus and was given to women just before giving birth to induce a good flow of breast milk. The Romans used it as an antidote to alcohol so as to prevent a hangover. 

This article was published in The Times on 15.02.2011

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