Horseradish’s diverse uses have been documented in the fieldnotes of botanists throughout history.
This hardy perennial can make you cry and make you like your beef steak even better.
But there’s so much more to it than its history, its gastronomic use, and its hot, biting taste.
Planting horseradish roots in your garden will take you places. Today, we’re looking beyond just the obvious benefits.
What is a Horseradish?
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is a plant that belongs to the Brassicaceae family. It stands side by side with broccoli, radish, mustard, and wasabi.
It’s grown primarily for its roots that have a wide application as a condiment and a spice. The enzymes within the roots break down the sinigrin compounds. This is where the veggie gets its tangy taste.
But, why the horseradish name? There are two origin stories that might explain the horseradish word etymology.
The first story begins with a German word: “meerrettich”. Supposedly, the name “horseradish” sprung from the British pronunciation of this German word, which was “mare-radish”. The rest is history.
The other story explains that Armoracia rusticana got its common name in 16th century England. The word “horse” meant “coarse” at the time. The word “radish” is Latin for “root”, so the name was the happy marriage of the two.
Advantages of Growing Horseradish in Your Garden
So, what is horseradish good for?
People like growing horseradish mostly for gastronomic purposes. But how many of us know that it’s also used as a natural food preservative?.
It all boils down to a compound called allyl isothiocyanate. This compound has already been registered as a natural food additive in Japan.
So, if you were doubting why you should plant horseradish plants in the first place, it can be for this purpose alone. Also, selling it to grocery stores, restaurants, and specialty food stores can prove lucrative.
Now, before we get to the nitty-gritty of horseradish benefits, let’s take a quick look at the plant parts.
Easy to Grow
First and foremost, being a hardy perennial, horseradish is dead easy to grow. You plant it once, and this guarantees you more crops the next season as well.
In Zones 4 to 7, the plant will require little to minimal care. It grows best in full sun and propagates fast and wildly once established.
Even if you diligently harvest your roots each year, the new plant will sprout next spring. This ability for the root to spread prolifically can also make horseradish weedy.
If this bothers you, grow horseradish plants in a pot or a raised bed in rich potting soil. Plant them 4 inches deep and get a container deep enough so the roots can grow 24 to 30 inches deep.
Ingredient for a Well-Known Condiment
A condiment – that’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about horseradish, right? The canned condiment you can find in supermarkets and convenience stores.
The root is used to make relishes and sauces served traditionally with roast beef. And not surprisingly, the two make for a perfect marriage of tastes.
Yet, this natural taste-maker is also a common ingredient in store-bought mustards. Often, you can see it included in fermented foods such as kimchi and pickles.
Horseradish sauce has also found its way into traditional Japanese wasabi paste recipes. Counties outside of Japan often use it as an alternative to wasabi for making sushi meals.
Fast Growing and High Yielding Plant
Now, here’s the kicker. This is what you really need to know if you’ve been looking to grow horseradish root. It’s a top-producing, cost-effective vegetable.
Planting it once in your garden leaves you with up to nine months of a plentiful harvest. The young leaves will sprout in the early spring and keep growing for you well into the fall. That’s when you start harvesting the roots that will keep you covered through the winter.
Now, if you’ve already taken a liking to this plant, there’s more.
Horseradish has a knack for growing really fast. After you’ve harvested your leaves, you won’t need to wait more than a week to see them grow back.
And another thing. With this crop, nothing goes to waste.
The leaves, also scarcely used, can be a great addition to your diet. Put them in raw salads when the leaves are young and use the old leaves for vegetable meals. Or use them for stuffed meat dishes instead of grape leaves.
Useful for Crop Protection
Another less known and perhaps hidden fact about the horseradish root is that it can be used as a preventive fungicide. Glucosinolates and their breakdown products found in horseradish roots can ward off soil-borne organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
You can make your own horseradish tea and use it to treat your fruits and veggies. You’ll need to combine the roots with nothing much more than water.
To top this off, horseradish is great for companion planting. This technique will serve you great as a natural pest repellent. But you can also use it to provide the shade to other plans. Or even to bring out a stronger flavor of other companion plants.
And just when you thought there’s nothing more to say about horseradish you learn it can also be used to attract specialist insects.
How to Grow Horseradish?
Now that you know how awesome horseradish is, it’s a good time to learn how to plant it.
You’ll want to plant the vegetable in spring and harvest it in fall, winter, and the early days of spring.
Cool soil boosts the formation of compounds that give horseradish the extra bite. But then, there’s no accounting for taste. Someone might prefer them milder as they come in late summer.
To plant horseradish roots in your garden, you can either plant them from seed or root cuttings, also known as thongs. You can get those from specialist growers in spring.
To make sure you plant your horseradish the proper way, follow the steps below:
- Plant horseradish in a fertile well-drained soil a few weeks before your last frost date. This perennial prefers moist, silty soils but can also tolerate clay or sandy loam.
- Work the soil 10 to 12 inches deep and make sure to break any lumps that might hurt the roots. Enrich the soil with compost and sand so the soil stays loose.
- Grow your horseradish root in full sun. Partial shade is also acceptable for the root to flourish.
- Plant your root cuttings with the narrow end down. Roots you use for planting usually come with a few inches of crowns on the top. Place the crowns right at the soil level. Drive your roots 3 to 4 inches deep into the ground. Then fill the trench so that you cover the wide end of the root.
- Careful with the spacing. Plant horseradish roots 24 to 36 inches apart. Horseradish is notorious for spreading quickly. So, keep the plant divided from other plants building 24 inches deep wooden, or masonry borders.
- Allow the root to grow at least one season before you start harvesting.
Horseradish is a pest-resistant plant that’s also resistant to diseases, so the work is minimal.
For those curious about how to give their horseradish some TLC and make the most of it, here’s how:
- Clear weeds around the young plants.
- Mulch using organic compost to keep the soil moist and prevent the root from drying out.
- Cut back any dead and damaged leaves in the fall so you clear any dead growth around the crown.
- Water regularly during the growing season.
Find a Good Use for Your Horseradish Plant
We believe we’ve given you enough to chew on. Now it’s up to you to find convenient uses for horseradish and its root that will suit your unique situation.
One thing’s for sure, you won’t lack ideas. With the horseradish plant, you’ll have plenty to work with. If you choose not to neglect this multi-purpose plant, you’ll be rewarded with a huge pay-off.
For more information on how to take your gardening to the next level, visit our Gardening Channel blog. You’ll find plenty of gardening tips on how to plant, grow, and protect your plants so they become all that you wanted them to be.
Photo from WikiMedia