HORSERADISH (Armoracia rusticana)
Did you know that 60% of all the world's horseradish is grown right here in Illinois? The Collinsville area, near East St. Louis, hosts an International Horseradish Festival every October.
In Bavaria, the town of Baiersdorf bills itself as "The Horseradish Town" and maintains a Horseradish Museum.
It's easy to get passionate about horseradish.
This homely plant is one of my favorite herbs - a condiment, source of vitamin B1, B2 and B6, minerals and most importantly - offering a tasty kick to more dishes that you might expect. Horseradish is closely associated with German and Polish cuisine, which may explain my early fondness for it, as a girl growing up on the south side of Chicago. There was always a jar of the grayish paste in our refrigerator, for dabbing gingerly on hard-boiled eggs, especially at Easter time. I'd always wondered about that custom. It's occurred to me only recently that as it's also one of the bitter herbs of the Jewish Feast of the Passover, there is an association with religious holidays. It is easy to grow, though I confess I often buy a jar already grated, as the aromatic compounds released during my kitchen experiments with it seem at times as if they might melt the blender. But in the face of the current rage for south-of -the-border hot peppers, delightful as they are - I urge you to investigate the delights of this rough and ready Eastern European root.
Horseradish is a member of the Cruciferae, or Mustard Family, with 4 petaled flowers in the shape of a Greek cross. It's long, strap like leaves grow to be over two feet long. An unattended planting will form a clump, but I have not found it to be unmannerly in my garden - perhaps because it competes with a stand of Jerusalem artichokes - the results of another produce section experiment that turned out to be a Bad Idea. Both coexist in their rather scary corner - though the only other living things that populate the area seem to be my bloodhounds, who every year forge little jungle trails through the dense undergrowth in order to bark at the neighbors.
Horseradish originated near the Caspian sea, then made it's way to Russia, Poland, Finland and was grown in Western Europe by the 13th century. With twice the vitamin C as lemons, perhaps it was useful as a scurvy preventative. It's antibiotic properties are being considered today as a possible natural method of combating bacteria on meat products and it's easy to see how it's strong flavor could mask the taste of meats gone bad. By the 16th century it found it's way to the New World with the colonists.
The name may stem from the German Meerrettich or "sea radish," referring to its growth in coastal areas. Meer is pronounced like "mare," and thus "horse" radish. Another interpretation is that it is a corruption of "coarse" radish — also a fitting term. At any rate, John Gerard referred to horseradish in his 1597 English herbal of medicinal plants.
Medicinally, it is said to boost resistance and fight colds. A mixture of horseradish and honey will calm a persistent cough. It is also said to aid digestion, and stimulate the heart and circulation ( I'll say it does)
Did you know that 60% of all the world's horseradish is grown right here in Illinois? The Collinsville area, near East St. Louis, hosts an International Horseradish Festival every October. In Bavaria, the town of Baiersdorf bills itself as "The Horseradish Town" and maintains a Horseradish Museum. It's easy to get passionate about horseradish.
To grow your own, just bring home a root from the produce section, bury it in fertile soil and it's yours forever. Horseradish is at it's best if well watered. They say for larger tap roots that make easier grating, dig down early in the year and rub off the side roots, forcing the plant to grow a fleshier main root. To me this has always been an extra garden chore that's never gotten done, and I've ground my supply from whatever roots I can grub up from the soil. Harvest in the fall and refrigerate or freeze the root. You can also store it in the ground. If you buy it ground, be sure to purchase only from the refrigerated section, as it degrades in hotness over time. Fresh roots should be firm and white.
Try horseradish on meats, sausages and add a spoonful to meat gravy for a pleasant taste. Try it on hardboiled eggs, or add some to fresh cranberry relish. A bit of root added to homemade dill pickles adds a pleasant bite. And best of all - try it in a Bloody Mary!
By E. Barbara Meyer - Champaign-Urbana Herb Society