A few weeks ago I talked about boyhood challenges to not pucker after taking a bite of a rhubarb stalk. That very same friend, Dennis, also joined me in the biting the horseradish root foolishness probably around the same time. Fresh from the ground, we pulled small, immature roots about the size of a baby carrot. There was a real earthiness to the taste as well as a zing of spiciness… not the wasabi-like heat of mature, prepared horseradish. Probably these young roots just hadn’t gotten their sting yet. Strangely, my family’s horseradish plants were under some young pines that my Dad had planted. He’d probably forgotten about the horseradish planted there since the shady, acidic spot was less than ideal. I don’t remember us ever getting any real large roots from the little plot.
Cultivating horseradish has been around at least since Egyptian times, 1500 BC and was used for both medicinal purposes and as an edible condiment according to Wiki. It was also considered an aphrodisiac. The English word “horseradish” originated in the 1590s due to its radish-like pungency and the root’s similarity in shape and size to a horse’s genitalia. Well, alright then! The Germans used it to flavor meats much like is done today with roast beef. The leaves could be dried and turned into a tea or crushed and compounded into a salve for its antibacterial properties. Today, horseradish is used in any number of culinary delights. It’s what gives Bloody Mary’s their spicy kick as well as the tomato-based cocktail sauce we dip our chilled shrimp into. I myself love horseradish sauce with virtually any meat. Grated and blended with mayonnaise, it’s exceptional on beef but also a wonderful addition to a chicken dish… especially if either are a tad dry. Always nice to be able to swirl a bite around in the spicy sauce before you pop it in your mouth.
Growing horseradish is a cinch as well. It’s hardy way down to Zone 2 and likes plenty of sun as well as well drained soil. According to “Add Some Spice To Your Life: Grow Your Own Horseradish” by Gretchen Heber at gardeners path.com, the variety to grow for consumption is Armoracia rusticana. There’s a purely ornamental variety sometimes sold at garden centers but that’s not what you want. In fact, the article said that finding the culinary variety to grow can sometimes be difficult to locate at garden centers and pointed to an Amazon link they probably got some type of commission from if you clicked on it. Good to know that’s an option but always try to source it locally if possible. The plants themselves are robust once established… reminding me of a narrower leafed rhubarb. They do have somewhat pretty clusters of white flowers and there’s no harm leaving them intact. Horseradish is a member of the Cruciferae family along with cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Hence, they can be susceptible to cabbage worms. The plants themselves are so vigorous, they can sometimes be invasive so you might even be able to harvest some the first year. The key is to wait until after first frost has knocked the leaves down a bit.
At harvest time, dig up an entire plant and take the larger roots, replanting the rest for next year. You can store horseradish roots for up to 10 months in a cool, dark place. Probably right along next to your potatoes! My new horseradish crop is going into the same bed as my rhubarb. It’s an old raised bed created with old railroad ties and lots and lots of compost. It’s away from any perennial gardens or my regular vegetable and flower cutting garden so I’m not concerned about its invasive tendencies. They’re rugged plants so it will be low on my list regarding weeding since they can certainly hold their own. Think about planting some horseradish. Right along with rhubarb, once they’re planted you really don’t have to do another thing except keep young plants watered and then just harvest!