Horseradish is probably known to many people as a hot spice. The root is used and is usually offered for sale in grated form in small jars. Yet the pungent root is more than just a popular condiment for sauces, salads, fish or meat. Horseradish root also has an extraordinary healing effect, which is why it was chosen as the medicinal plant of the year in 2021 by the NHV Theophrastus Association for the Promotion of Natural Medicine.
In European gardens since the eleventh century
The perennial and absolutely hardy horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) belongs to the cruciferous family, which is home to many well-known vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi or radish. In some regions, horseradish is also called “Kren”. Originally, it comes from southern Russia and today’s Ukraine, where the wild form can still be found today. From there, horseradish spread to southern Europe as a remedy and spice in ancient times. It was probably the Romans who promoted its cultivation and spread throughout their empire. In Europe, there is no evidence of the cultivation of the pungent root until the eleventh century. Today’s occurrences in the wild are usually overgrowths from earlier cultivation.
A pungent par excellence
The white-fleshed horseradish root is odourless when unprocessed. It is only when it is cut or grated that it gives off the pungent odour that brings tears to our eyes. The mustard oils are responsible for this, but they are only formed when the root cells are damaged by an enzyme reaction. The resulting incredible pungency is also the reason why horseradish has been used as a spice for centuries. The raw root is particularly pungent because the biting pungency is largely lost through heating or drying. That is why horseradish is only added to hot dishes at the last moment. Fresh horseradish is suitable for seasoning beetroot salad, curd cheese and cream cheese. It is also traditionally used in the form of horseradish sauce or horseradish cream as an accompaniment to smoked fish, ham, beef, especially boiled beef, or sausages. After grating, you should process the horseradish as quickly as possible, otherwise it will discolour unsightly.
The horseradish root is not only spicy, but it contains a lot of vitamin C for a root, more than twice as much as a lemon. It also contains many vitamins of the B group as well as the minerals potassium, calcium and iron. No other root is so rich in minerals.
The healing power of mustard oils
The healing properties of mustard are determined by the mustard oils it contains. These are produced from mustard oil glycosides when the cells are injured. The mustard oils of horseradish have many healing effects. A considerable antimicrobial and antiviral effect has been scientifically confirmed. That is why horseradish is considered a herbal antibiotic that is used for respiratory tract infections and urinary tract infections. There are also studies that show an inhibitory effect on colon and stomach cancer cells. In addition, the pungent root strengthens the immune system. A popular home remedy is to make an expectorant cough syrup from grated root and honey as in the recipe described below. Externally, the grated root is used as a skin irritant and circulation stimulant, for example for muscle pain and rheumatic complaints. External use as a poultice is only carried out for four to five minutes, as the strong stimuli can lead to blistering. Under no circumstances should the poultice be applied directly to the skin, but it should be placed in a handkerchief.
What do I need to grow horseradish in the garden?
In order for the horseradish root to develop well, it needs deep soil that can be rooted well and has a good humus supply. Above all, an even, constant supply of moisture is important. This rewards the plant with good growth and thus develops a beautiful taproot.
Horseradish is not propagated by seeds, but mainly with the help of its lateral roots. These lateral roots, also called fenugreek, can be purchased in the shops at planting time. Alternatively, some herb nurseries also offer horseradish plants in pots. The pencil-thick lateral roots are used, which are produced in autumn when the mother plants are harvested. After harvesting, the 30 to 40 centimetre long roots are stored in moist sand over the winter and planted the following spring. The best planting time is from early April to early May.
How to plant and harvest horseradish
Plant the fencerows in the garden 30 centimetres apart. Use a planting stick to poke a slightly slanted hole into which the fencer is inserted. The lower root end is then about 15 centimetres below the soil, while the upper root end should be covered with soil for two to three centimetres. If the fencerows are planted vertically instead of diagonally, hardly any thickness growth takes place. Before planting out, rub off all buds and roots from the fencer, except for the top and bottom three centimetres. The upper ones then develop into leaves and the lower ones into roots. This method will give you a beautiful, unbranched horseradish stalk.
In the summer, in June and July, the upper part of the fencerows is then exposed to remove the side roots and side shoots to encourage the growth of the strongest root. The lower part of the plant remains in the soil. After removing the branches, cover the root with soil again.
Harvesting begins when the leaves die back in November. When cleaning the stalks, you can immediately cut and store the fencerows for the following year. For storage, wrap the roots in moist sand and place them in a cool place. However, the longer they are stored, the less pungent they become. You can also leave the frost-hardy roots in the ground until the end of February and harvest them as needed.
Because of its close relationship to cabbage plants, horseradish is very susceptible to all cabbage pests, especially to ground fleas and the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly, which eat holes in the leaves.
Recipe for horseradish cream
80 g fresh horseradish 100 ml cream 2 tsp lemon juice 1 tsp salt ½ tsp liquid honey
Peel the horseradish and grate or mix finely. If possible, work at the window or outdoors because of the irritating vapours. Add cream and spices and blend until a creamy consistency is obtained. Then fill into jars and store in the refrigerator.
Keeps for up to two weeks. Ideal condiment for barbecuing, as a dip or to add to sauces and salads.
Recipe for horseradish honey
(formerly also called throat cleaner)
4 tbsp. freshly grated horseradish 2 tbsp freshly grated ginger 6 tbsp liquid honey 1 tbsp lemon juice
Peel and finely grate the horseradish and ginger. Mix all ingredients, stir well and leave to infuse for one hour.
You can take the honey in this form or filter it and use only the liquid syrup. The horseradish honey should not be stored for more than three days. Dosage: one to two teaspoons three to four times a day. Helpful for colds, coughs and bronchitis. It also strengthens the immune system.
Note: This article was written with the greatest care. However, the author is not a doctor or pharmacist. The information given in the article is not to be understood as health advice. Therefore, please discuss the use of the health-related tips with your family doctor.