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Horseradish

( Originally Published 1933 )



Cruciferne

Perennial

Horseradish, also called Radicula armoracia, comes from southeastern Europe and is naturalized in America. It is so rampant, once it has been planted in the garden, that it seems foolish to grow it, but as it is such an important flavoring I have included it. The plant is coarse, with large leaves and inconspicuous flowers.

Root. The root is deep below the surface, branching, long, and cylindrical with a slightly wrinkled white skin. The flesh is white, somewhat fibrous and tastes like hot mustard.

Leaf The leaves are most unusual. The first ones to appear look like big green combs, they are so cut. They are nine inches long and four inches across at their widest point. Later come the radical leaves which are fourteen inches long and five to six across, shiny, green, oval to oblong, with margins having rounded, uneven scallops. The tip is scalloped and the midrib prominent. The stems of the radical leaves are four to six inches long and are rounded on one side and concave on the other, as if a sharp groove had been cut out of them. Above these grow narrow leaves five inches long, opposite, and with no stems. The leaves taste of fresh herbs, a little bitter, and leave a biting sensation behind.

Flower. The flowers bloom in May and are greenish white, borne in loose, irregular panicles, on a stalk two feet or less high; they have four petals, are not fragrant, and do not produce fertile seed.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

Horseradish has been cultivated in Oriental Europe for over a thousand years, but not in western Europe. It is the armoracia of the Romans. The German name meerrettich, which means sea radish, is said to have been given to the plant either because it came from the Black Sea or because it was grown in Brittany, the land of the sea. During the Middle Ages it was grown for medicine, and in 1542 Fuchsius mentioned it as a condiment. It is grown in almost every German garden today, and was in American gardens before 1806.

USES

Medicine. It is said to stimulate the appetite, and can also be applied externally as a counter-irritant wherever mustard is appropriate.

Food. It is a favorite condiment either hot or cold with meat or oysters. With oily fish or fatty viands it acts as a corrective and helps the digestion. The French soak it in olive oil or carnation oil to lessen the sharpness of the taste. In Alsace it is present at all meals. It can be bought conveniently bottled ready for use.

CULTURE

One can buy pieces of the root which should be planted two feet deep and about three feet apart in well-prepared soil. The difficulty with horseradish is not in coaxing it to grow, but in keeping it from spreading. It is absolutely hardy.

Harvest. The roots are dug up in the autumn and stored in sand or earth to protect them from withering until they are needed.



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