Horseradish is a favourite condiment. It traditionally accompanies Roast Beef, but it can be an addition to a number of dishes including sandwiches and salad. It is a perennial plant from the Brassica family, which includes mustard, broccoli and cabbage. It is native to south east Europe, but is grown throughout the world.
The Horseradish plant can grow up to 5ft tall, but it is the large white tapering root that is used to make Horseradish Sauce. After the first frost in the autumn kills the leaves, the root is dug and divided. Older roots left in the ground become woody, after which they are no longer useable, although older plants can be dug and re-divided to start new plants. The Horseradish root itself has virtually no aroma, but once cut or grated, it produces an oil which can be an irritant and should be used immediately or mixed with vinegar. If left, the root darkens and becomes bitter and should not be used. It becomes unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat.
Horseradish is white to creamy-beige in colour and refers to the grated root of the Horseradish plant mixed with vinegar. Obviously fresh Horseradish will be much stronger in taste than that bought in a jar. It will keep for months refrigerated, but eventually will start to darken, indicating it is losing its flavour and should be replaced. The leaves of the plant, whilst edible, are not commonly eaten, and are referred to as “Horseradish Greens”. It is used extensively throughout Europe, especially in soups and as an essential condiment for meats such as suckling pig, lamb and fish.
Horseradish has been cultivated for centuries and according to Greek mythology, Horseradish was worth its weight in gold. The root and leaves of the Horseradish were used as medicine during the Middle Ages. According to John Gerard, who wrote about herbs and the history of plants in the 16th Century “The Horse Radish stamped with a little vinegar put thereto, is commonly used among the Germans for sauce to eat fish with and such like meats as we do mustard.”
Horseradish contains various chemicals such as potassium and calcium and two glucosilonates which are responsible for its pungent taste. The mustard oil that is produced when the root is grated has antibacterial properties and the plant is rich in Vitamin C. The enzyme, Horseradish Peroxidase, which is found in the plant, is used extensively in research, especially during biopsies to determine cancer.
The Horseradish root is known to have diuretic properties and can be used for minor health problems such as urinary tract and bronchial infections as it has been found to kill some bacterial strains.