For centuries, this herb was considered a medicine, not a condiment. The French called it moutarde des allemands, mustard of the Germans, and indeed, the Germans and Danes were the only Europeans of the Middle Ages to use the root at the dinner table.
This large-rooted perennial has been valued by herbalists as an internal and external medicine, and it has been cultivated since ancient times. The Egyptians used it as early as 1500 BCE, and it is one of the five bitter herbs of the Jewish Passover ceremony.
Common Name: Horseradish
Description: Perennial; 12 to 24 inches tall with large, broad, lance-shaped leaves; tiny, white, four-petaled flowers; aromatic
Hardiness: To Zone 3
Parts Used: Roots and leaves
Range/Habitat: Native to Europe and Asia; widely cultivated
Horseradish is best known today for the sharply flavored condiment prepared from its root. To make it, simply grate the fresh root and put a bit of it on food, or combine it with vinegar. The mildly spicy leaves can be added to salads.
Nutritionally, horseradish is a good source of calcium, dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and zinc. Long recognized for its healthful properties, horseradish has been used to treat disorders such as asthma, coughs, toothache, ulcers, worms, and inflammation of joints and tissues.
The root contains isothiocyanates (sulfur compounds also found in garlic and onions), as well as sulforaphane, an antioxidant in broccoli. Released when the root is crushed, both agents clear sinus congestion, open nasal passages, and promote blood flow. Horseradish also has antibiotic properties, making it useful for treating respiratory and urinary tract infections.
Caution: Pregnant and nursing women, very young children, and people suffering from gastrointestinal or kidney disorders should not take horseradish in large amounts. Also, remember not to eat horseradish or other members of the mustard family for at least 3 days before taking a test for blood in the stool, as these foods can cause a false positive.
How to grow it
Horseradish prefers loose, rich, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Plant root divisions in early spring or fall. Do not overwater. Harvest the leaves in spring; dig up the roots in fall. Propagate established plants by dividing the rhizomes in early spring or fall.
Caution: In some areas, horseradish spreads easily; consider growing it in a container.