Thursday, 6 January 2011


Horseradish is native to the Mediterranean, although it has been growing wild in Britain for centuries, as it has in the rest of Europe and Scandinavia. It grows virtually anywhere and we used to take a shovel and dig a root up when we needed it in Wales. You don’t have to go to those extremes, and it’s probably illegal to do so now; you can buy it in powdered or grated form or in ready-made sauces, including one with Roquefort cheese. It is related to the wallflower family and to mustard and Brassica, such as broccoli. It contains the same constituent (sinigrin) as black mustard seed, and is now used as a condiment in much the same way as mustard is. The French call horseradish Moutarde des Allemandes, or mustard of the Germans, as it was these people who first used it as a condiment in Europe.
   We can only speculate as to why it is called horseradish; some say that it is a misnomer from the German translation as it is called Meerrettich in German, meaning sea radish, but it was heard as mare radish (mare being a female horse). Some say that it is just called horse radish because it is a big tuber. However the roots resemble horse dung when they are first uprooted, so maybe that’s why it got its name. It actually looks a little like a parsnip or a mooli radish, and it tastes like the latter, although it is more pungent.
Other countries only used horseradish for its medicinal value. It was not until the mid 17th century that Britons began using it in the same way as their German cousins.
   Horseradish was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians prior to 1500 BC, and Pliny recommended it (he called it Armoracia) as a diuretic. The ancient Greeks called it Raphanus agrios and Gerard, in his herbal of 1597 calls it Raphanus rusticana. He says that it was “commonly used among Germans for sauce to eate fish and such like meates as we do mustarde.” This comments shows that at Gerard’s time Britons did not use horseradish in this way.
    Culpeper says “If bruised and laid to a part grieved with sciatica, gout, joint-ache or hard swellings of the spleen and liver, it doth wonderfully help them all.” If it is scraped and secured by a bandage it will get rid of chilblains and if grated horseradish is applied to the face in cases of neuralgia that will go away too. However your hand may go numb if you hold the horseradish for too long. Infused in wine, horseradish makes a good stimulant for the nervous system and will bring on perspiration, so is good for a fever which accompanies flu. If you infuse horseradish in milk, this will help rejuvenate your complexion as it will stimulate blood flow in the face. Horseradish steeped in white vinegar used to be used to get rid of freckles. The root was also thought to be very effective in removing intestinal worms.
   Today horseradish is mainly used for respiratory problems, and it will get rid of mucus if you have a cold, cough or flu. It really does clear the sinuses, as you will know if you’ve unwittingly bitten into a beef sandwich without first knowing that it contained horseradish sauce. Horseradish is good with fatty foods as it aids digestion and seems to cut through the fat. It’s good with chicken, roast or boiled beef, tongue, cheeses and pork products.
   It is one of the five “bitter herbs” eaten by Jews at the feast of the Passover when they remember the bitterness of their enslavement in Egypt under the pharaohs. The other bitter herbs eaten at this time are coriander, lettuce, nettles, and horehound.
  Japanese horseradish is wasabi and you can buy this as a powder, which is pale green. This comes from a different family to the horseradish though, as it is Wasabi japonica. It is similar in taste to horseradish but not as pungent.
   Poultices of horseradish are good to clean infected wounds, as the root has antimicrobial and antiseptic properties. If you put fresh, grated horseradish on a part of the body that suffers from the pain of rheumatism or arthritis, it will help relieve it.
   If you buy powdered horseradish and mix it in water to reconstitute it. Leave it for 20 minutes or so for the full flavour to develop as you would with mustard prepared from a powder. You can mix the fresh grated root with yoghurt or soured cream or double cream to make a sauce, depending on the flavour you favour. Horseradish contains more vitamin C than an orange or a lemon so is good to ward off colds as well as to get rid of them. Cooked horseradish loses some of its pungency, but there’s nothing quite like the horseradish sauce below to perk up your appetite.

¼ cup of fresh grated horseradish (freeze any remaining)
½ tbsp sugar
2 tsps Dijon mustard or green peppercorn mustard
1 tsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar
handful chopped chives
4 cloves garlic finely chopped or minced
1 cup natural yoghurt, soured cream or double cream
½ tsp paprika

Mix all the ingredients together carefully, then chill for two hours or so before use.
Serve as suggested above, with meats, sausages, or cheeses.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

1 comment:

  1. I use horseradish for many dishes. I use 2tsb in the mixing of meatloaf. 1/2tsp in scrambled eggs. But my favorite is 2tsp simmered in a can of baked beans.


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