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How To Grow And Use Horseradish


July is National Horseradish Month, so it’s time to celebrate this flavorful root. Horseradish is an ancient herb and food that has been used medicinally and to add flavor to dishes for thousands of years. While many medical claims are unproven, we do know for sure that horseradish contains compounds that have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Best of all, it adds an amazing flavor to foods.

Horseradish is a perennial plant that belongs to the Brassicaceae family. It is related to broccoli, cabbage, and mustard and is native to western Asia and southeastern Europe. Today, horseradish is grown throughout the world. Here in the U.S., it grows well in many locations.

The History Of Horseradish

Horseradish has been cultivated and used by people for at least three thousand years. The earliest record of people using the root dates from 1500 B.C. in ancient Egypt. In ancient Greece, the god Apollo was told by the Oracle of Delphi that horseradish was worth its weight in gold. It gets several mentions throughout writings of the Roman Empire and even makes an appearance in a mural in Pompeii. In Medieval Europe, horseradish roots were used as a medicinal ingredient and as a food in Germany and Scandinavia.

How To Grow Horseradish

Fortunately, growing your own horseradish is easy. There is no need to rely on prepared sauces from the grocery store. With your own homegrown roots, you can make your own prepared and canned horseradish and enjoy the tangy and spicy flavor all year round. You will be surprised at how much more flavorful horseradish is when you grow it yourself.

Horseradish grows best in loamy soil, but it will tolerate any type. However, the roots will be unimpressive if you grow the plant in hard, shallow, or clay soils. Your horseradish will also need full sun, plenty of moisture, and lots of nutrients. Use compost to make sure the soil is rich and till the soil as deeply as possible. To grow best, horseradish requires deep and nutrient-rich soil.

To grow horseradish, you start with a piece of root that is about the size of your finger. Because they need a long growing season, plant your roots as early in the spring as you are able to work the soil. Place the roots three inches deep into the soil at an angle of 30 or 45 degrees and two feet apart from each other. The roots need to be planted the right way around. If you have purchased your roots from a commercial source, the top end will be cut at an angle and the bottom will be cut straight across.

Horseradish is susceptible to a disease called brittle root. The beet leafhopper transmits the disease, and yellowing leaves can be an indicator of its presence. The best way to cure the disease is to prevent it by good pest control. Once it sets in, the disease is very destructive. Cabbageworms will also be attracted to your horseradish and will eat the leaves if you let them. Hand picking them is the most effective control of these fat, green caterpillars.

You can harvest your horseradish roots in the fall, but you can also over winter them. For fresh roots year round, you can harvest some in the fall and some in early spring. The best time to harvest in the fall is after the first frost. Use the main root and replant some of the smaller offshoots to keep your horseradish plants going.

Health Benefits

At a minimum, horseradish is a very healthful way to add flavor to foods. It has few calories, no fat, and very little sodium, and yet it has a huge, zingy flavor. In addition to its strong flavor, horseradish root contains significant amounts of certain nutrients like calcium, vitamin C, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It also has mustard oil, which has antibacterial properties.

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Research has confirmed that horseradish has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, but any claims beyond that are unproven. However, people have been using this root for millennia as a medicine, so there is likely some truth to the claims. It has been used to treat:

  • Bronchitis
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Sinus congestion
  • Coughs
  • Rheumatism
  • Flu
  • Headache
  • Asthma

Whether it helps with any of these illnesses or not, horseradish is safe for most people to use and to consume. It should not be given to children under the age of four, though, or to people with stomach ulcers or kidney diseases.

Uses For Horseradish

Horseradish may or may not be a miracle treatment for certain ailments, but for most of us, there is certainly no harm in adding it to our diet. Besides its health benefits, horseradish has an amazing and unique flavor that you can’t find in any other food. There are many great ways to add it to your diet.

If you have purchased horseradish at the grocery store to spread on sandwiches or to add to meat dishes, you probably bought prepared horseradish in a small jar. This is the best way to use the root in different dishes because you will not get the zingy flavor out of the root until you grate or grind it up. Clean your root and peel off the outer layer before chopping into small pieces. Add the pieces to a food processor. For one large, about eight to ten inches, root, add a couple of tablespoons of water and process until it is well ground.

If the processed mixture is too runny, drain out some of the water. Add a tablespoon of vinegar and a pinch of salt and pulse just to blend it all in. Transfer the mixture to a jar and store in the refrigerator. It will keep for several months. Be warned when making your prepared horseradish that it is very, very strong. Imagine chopping raw onions and multiply that by ten. Process the roots quickly and get them into jars. The vinegar helps to tame some of the heat. The sooner you add the vinegar, the milder the horseradish will be. Wash your hands thoroughly after working with the root and be very careful not to touch your hands to your eyes.

Once you have your own jars of prepared horseradish, there are numerous ways to use it. Add a dash to your vegetable or tomato juice. Put a spoonful in your scrambled eggs. Mix into potato and pasta salads. Combine some with apricot preserves for a spicy ham glaze. Add to stocks for more flavorful soups. Blend with cream cheese to make a dip. Add to mashed potatoes and meatloaf. Mash into avocado for an extra zingy guacamole. Add to meat marinades. Flavor vegetables with horseradish instead of butter and salt for a healthful alternative. You can even kick up your cocktails with horseradish. It goes especially well with a bloody Mary. The possibilities are nearly endless!

Fun Facts

  • In spite of the name, horseradish is poisonous to horses.
  • 24 million pounds of horseradish roots are processed in the U.S. every year.
  • Horseradish is still largely planted and harvested by hand.
  • There are only two calories in a teaspoon of horseradish.
  • In the past, horseradish was called sting nose.
  • In Germany, you can purchase horseradish schnapps.
  • Most of the horseradish in the world is grown in Illinois.
  • Horseradish is celebrated every year in Collinsville, Illinois, at the International Horseradish Festival.
  • Most of the horseradish grown in Illinois is processed in Baltimore.
  • The compound that lends horseradish its distinctive flavor is called isothiocyanate.

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