Horseradish brings up visions of rare roast beef, doesn’t it? But it’s also a very versatile vegetable that can be used many ways. The young tender leaves can even be used like arugula in salads or on sandwiches.
Horseradish is a perennial that is related to cabbage, broccoli, arugula, etc. It has been cultivated for culinary use for thousands of years. It’s even mentioned in Greek mythology where an oracle told Apollo that horseradish was worth its weight in gold.
Horseradish was particularly popular in Germany, Scandinavia, and Great Britain. It was brought to America by European settlers and was even grown in the gardens at Mount Vernon and Monticello. By the 1860’s it was being sold in jars, making it one of the earliest “convenience” foods.
The “bite” of horseradish occurs when the horseradish root is cut or grated. As it is cut or crushed, volatile oils are released. Adding vinegar stops the chemical reaction.
No one is exactly sure where the name “horseradish” came from. The Germans called the plant “Sea Radish.” The German word for “sea” is “Meer” which may have gotten changed to “Mare.” Mare Radish, Horseradish.
Horseradish is extremely easy to grow. To grow your own, buy the rootstock when it’s available in the spring (yes, we have some now). Pick a spot that gets a half a day or more of sunlight.
Loosen the soil to a depth of about 12”. Plant the roots at an angle—with the thinnest end down, slanting up to the fattest end. Cover with 2 inches of soil. Let it grow undisturbed the first year.
Horseradish has the best flavor if harvested after the first frost. It may try to bloom on occasion. It’s best to remove the flower stalks before they set seed.
It tends to be a very vigorous spreader so give it a lot of elbow room. Remember it is a perennial so will come back every spring.
Horseradish mixes well with sour cream and/or mayonnaise to make a quick and easy sauce. I’ve seen versions that had a little Dijon mustard or lemon juice to taste. They’re all good. And it’s even better when you grew it yourself.