If you have ever had a family outing to Arby's, and had one of their famous beef and cheddar sandwiches with "Horsey sauce", then you know the hot spicy taste of horseradish. For centuries, it was thought of as a medicine, but today it is seen as a complement to roast beef. Although many people may be put off by its strong bite, nothing works better than horseradish on a roast beef or chicken sandwich if used in moderation. It is used in mayonnaise based salads to add character and even the leaves can be used - sparingly - in green salads. Here, we will discuss horseradish - its history, uses, medicinal and culinary traits and its cultivation.
History of Horseradish
Horseradish, native to Eastern Europe and western Asia, has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb. The Egyptians knew about horseradish as far back as 1500 BC, and the ancient Greeks used horseradish as a treatment for low back pain. They also used it as an aphrodisiac. In the 1500's it was known in England as "Red Cole, and grew wild in various regions. By the 1600's it was used only by country folk and laborers, being too much for "delicate and gentle stomachs."
Horseradish has been used for centuries as a stimulant, asperient, rubefacient, diuretic and antiseptic. It was used by the ancient Greeks to cure low back pain. It is an excellent stimulant to the digestive organs. It stimulates the digestion process. Horseradish was recommended for scurvy when fever was low. A tonic can be made with may be prepared with slices of the fresh root, orange peel, nutmeg and wine to stimulate digestion, as well as for chronic rheumatism. Because it contains so much sulpfur, it is used externally as a rubefacient in chronic rheumatism and in paralytic conditions. If eaten frequently during the day, it helps cure the symptoms of the flu, helping to relieve cough.
Horseradish today is of course used as a condiment and spread. It is typically prepared by mixing the grated root with vinegar. Horseradish sauce made from grated horseradish root and cream is very popular in England. It has long been associated with roast beef. In the US, it is often used in a mix for Bloody Mary cocktails. Horseradish is mixed with other things to make sauces and dips for fish, shellfish, roast beef, and on sandwiches. It goes well; mixed with ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. Mixed with ketchup, it makes a fine cocktail sauce for shrimp.
Horseradish is easy to grow. It is an herbaceous perennial of the mustard family. It will grow to a height of 2 to 3 feet, with long stalked, oblong or toothed leaves up to 1 foot long. It prefers a soil that is moist, rich and heavy. It does best in a soil with a pH of 6.8. Horseradish likes full sun.
It is best propagated by cuttings from a root. The root should be young and straight, about 8 to 9 inches in length, and a half inch wide. It is best to gather roots that have a bud or "eye" for best results. Horseradish goes out, not down, so needs plenty of room. Place each cutting about 12 to 18 inches apart, at a depth of 12 to 18 inches. Horseradish is very invasive, so be sure to plant it in a part of the garden where it has room to grow. A good way to control it is to use a bottomless 5 gallon pail placed in the ground when you plant the root. When you wish to remove it from the garden, make absolutely sure that you get every tiny root, or it will return quickly.
Harvesting and Storage
Horseradish is typically harvested in late October or early November. Pack the root in dry sand and keep in a cool, dry place. The horseradish root will stay fresh in the crisper drawer of a refrigerator for months without losing its potency. Scrub the root thoroughly before storage.
A Horseradish Recipe
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup chili sauce
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Combine all ingredients, and allow to chill for at least an hour in the refrigerator. Serve with shrimp as a dipping sauce.
Horseradish is not for the faint hearted. If using this fine herb, be sure to use it sparingly unless you are a glutton for punishment. There are people who have grown it for years. Check around with family and friends for a cutting. It is available commercially, but so common that it is easier to get a cutting for your garden. Enjoy this intensely flavored herb today!
Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.