Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
January, 2011
Regional Report

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Grow and grate your own fresh horseradish for the best flavor.

Breathe Deep -- Eat Horseradish

In the United States, horseradish is best known as a sinus-opening ingredient in the tomato-based cocktail sauce served with shrimp or in a Bloody Mary. In fact, Americans consume six million gallons of horseradish a year. Yet, you'll be hard-pressed to find it in groceries, until you ferret out the tiny selection of prepared horseradish somewhere near the dairy case, or, if you're really in luck, a few fresh roots in the produce section. And, it's even less common in gardens. For an herb that's been used since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, this seems an odd oversight. Perhaps that may change in 2011, as horseradish has been selected as the "herb of the year" by several herb-related organizations.

Although there is a certain degree of arbitrariness in the choice of any "plant of the year," the designation of horseradish as one will, hopefully, encourage more gardeners to consider growing it and using it more widely with their food. The benefits horseradish offers us are two-fold; an extra zing to our meals and, possibly, better health as well.

A Natural Antibiotic
In Healing Spices: How To Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices To Boost Health and Beat Disease (Sterling Publishing, 2011, $24.95), authors Bharat B. Aggarwal, Ph.D with Deborah Yost provide an introduction to the medicinal qualities of horseradish. It is the volatile oil sinigrin in horseradish, which breaks down into allyl isothiocynate, a powerful natural antibiotic, that accounts for the effectiveness of horseradish in treating upper respiratory infections.

But that is not its only claim to fame. As noted botanist and spice expert Dr. James A. Duke puts it, "Horseradish is about as useful in the medicine chest as it is in the spice rack." Horseradish contains more medicinally active compounds than most other spices. Besides clearing congestion, these can thin mucous, reduce inflammation and cell-damaging oxidants, fight bacteria and viruses, relax muscles, and simulate the immune system. Unfortunately, there are only a few scientific studies that have been conducted on horseradish, although it has been included in the German Commission E Monographs, which are used by physicians in Germany as a source of information on the medical use of herbs.

In the Meantime, Enjoy Horseradish in the Kitchen
Among various nationalities and their cuisines, it is the Germans who have most taken to horseradish. Freshly grated horseradish root is used in countless recipes for sauces with vinegar, lemon juice, whipped cream, beer, or sour green apples for serving with sausages and other meats. It is also added to dishes of potatoes or beets.

In your own kitchen, consider adding some horseradish to potato salads and slaws. Add it to applesauce to make a zippy side dish or use it to spike barbecue sauce. Combine horseradish with Greek yogurt as a topping for smoked or grilled fish. Horseradish pairs well with basil, bay, mint, parsley, rosemary, and celery, fennel, mustard, or sesame seeds. The most complementary foods are apples, potatoes, beef roasts, cheese, cold cuts, eggs, fish, and shellfish. Horseradish loses much of its punch with cooking, so it is usually served as a condiment or added to a warm dish just prior to serving.

For greatest pungency, peel and grate horseradish roots just before serving. A sharp food grater works well for the strong-of-arm, but a food processor with a grating blade is much easier. Just stand back when you remove the top of the processor! If you don't want to go through this procedure every time, simply combine 1 cup of grated horseradish with one-quarter to one-half cup of white wine, rice, or cider vinegar. The goal is to have the horseradish covered by the vinegar. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Horseradish in the Garden
Horseradish is an herbaceous perennial hardy to -20 degrees F. It grows best with full sun in a well-drained, loose garden loam or sandy soil. Roots for planting are widely available from local garden centers and mail-order sources. If the site is a good one, the horseradish will spread, so choose a site where either it can be contained or allowed to run without bothering other plants. The long, narrow, dark green leaves grow 2 to 3 feet tall and add an attractive boldness to a garden. For best flavor, the roots of established plants are dug in the fall after frost has killed off most of the top growth.

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