The nature of things
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.