Horseradish root is hot and pungent, and the same qualities that make it the chosen accompaniment to roast beef also power its medicinal uses. It stimulates digestion, is an active eliminator of the waste products of fevers and colds, clears the sinuses, and is warming for rheumatism and muscle aches.
Brassicaceae (Cruciferae) Cabbage family
Description: A perennial, which forms large patches. The leaves are dock-like, but bright green with parallel veins and wavy edges, and often full of holes from snails. In summer there may be trusses of white flowers.
Habitat: Along roadsides, on waste ground, and in kitchen gardens.
Distribution: Widely cultivated. Often a garden escape, it spreads by strong lateral roots, and is hard to remove once you have it.
Parts used: Roots.
... it is also a good remedy in strong bodies, both for the Cough, the Tissicke and other diseases of the lunges ... the roote bruised and laid to the place grieved with the Sciatica-gout, joynt- ach, or the hard swellings of the spleene and liver, doth wonderfully helpe them all.
- Parkinson (1640)
Horseradish is this book's example of a hot, pungent, and stimulating herb. Lacking native ginger or galangal, horseradish is a good temperate heating herb, although the mustards have similar virtues.
Horseradish is a bit of a show-off, a hot cabbage originating in southern Russia, with large, coarse, wavy-edged leaves that glisten in the rain. It has small and pretty white flowers, but its main claim to fame is its long and sturdy white tap root. And this hides its healing secrets.
The root is the part that is used medicinally, as it is to make Britain's customary sauce for roast beef. We are breaking our own rules about using roots for three reasons: horseradish is abundant, if not invasive; a few roots are all you need for a year's supply as a standby medicine;
and it regenerates quickly from the least fragment of root left behind.
It was a medicine long before it became a condiment, but works in a parallel way in both uses. The outer layer of root is beige and inoffensive but as soon as you cut into the tissues beneath you are assailed by a hot and biting smell that makes your eyes water.
In small amounts the grated root, usually preserved in vinegar or a cream sauce, lifts the gastric enzymes into overdrive to break down the cell structure of cooked beef and prevent indigestion. Note that larger amounts can inflame the stomach lining in some people.
A mustard-like oil is being created here and released, stimulating digestive and other reactions. The mucous membranes in the mouth and throat also react immediately, and the effect is wonderful for clearing blocked sinuses.
This vigorous response accounts for the use of horseradish in promoting elimination in flus, fevers, coughs and catarrh. Be aware that it is an active process, with hot sweats and many tissues needed.
• sinus congestion
• sinus congestion
• sluggish digestion
The cut root can be rubbed on stiff or aching joints and muscles to bring warmth to the skin. Rheumatic conditions can be eased using a poultice, but people with sensitive skin may react by blistering. Its antiseptic and anti-microbial qualities offer relief for boils.
Do remember the root's strength and volatility. It is not called "horse," meaning "coarse" or "rough," for nothing. An earlier English name, red cole, is said to be because the fiery taste was like red-hot coals. John Pechey noted (1707): "horseradish provokes the appetite, but it hurts the head."
Grate a horseradish root into a bowl (outdoors if the fumes are strong). Whatever amount you make, cover this with sugar. Stir well, and leave for a few hours until a syrup develops. Strain off the liquid. If it is too fluid, heat until it reduces to the consistency you like. Pour into a bottle. It is strong, so dosage is no more than 3 tablespoons a day.
Chop fresh horseradish root and put in a blender with enough cider vinegar to blend. Store in the fridge. Use as a condiment, or chew a teaspoonful to clear blocked sinuses. The vinegar can be strained off after a week or two to use in the formula given on page 191.
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