The na­ture of things

Horse­rad­ish

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Illustration by Bill Dono­hoe

THE horse­rad­ish I planted last time dis­ap­peared with­out trace, per­haps be­cause it was as­signed a spot that was just too in­hos­pitable, even for as tough a cus­tomer as Ar­mora­cia rus­ti­cana. It’s time to give it an­other go, how­ever, and a bet­ter lo­ca­tion, for this pun­gent plant of sin­gu­larly pep­pery roots is at its best when dug straight from the ground.

Na­tive to Europe and long ago nat­u­ralised in Bri­tain, the ben­e­fits of this hardy peren­nial mem­ber of the cab­bage fam­ily are le­gion. In Greek mythol­ogy, horse­rad­ish had its own myth­i­cal sta­tus, be­ing con­sid­ered worth its weight in gold. Cer­tainly, many health ben­e­fits have been at­trib­uted to the plant over the cen­turies, in­clud­ing as an an­tiox­i­dant, a stim­u­lant to healthy di­ges­tion and cir­cu­la­tion, an an­tibi­otic and a di­uretic. Its nat­u­ral ‘heat’ is said to be ben­e­fi­cial to rheumatic joints, to ease stiff mus­cles and sci­at­ica.

Horse­rad­ish likes an open, bright po­si­tion, but will cope with some dap­pled shade and re­quires free-drain­ing, but nu­tri­ent-rich soil. The thick roots will de­velop bet­ter with de­pend­able mois­ture in the soil and can be dug up at any time to use while very fresh and pun­gent. The time-hon­oured method of pre­serv­ing grated or even whole roots is to plunge them in white-wine vine­gar, which main­tains the de­sired white colour and heat, for its flavours are very volatile and dis­si­pate rapidly when ex­posed to air.

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