Name: Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana)
Otherwise known as: Red Cole, Great Raifort
Habitat: A perennial member of the Cruciferae family growing up to 1m in waste areas near watercourses in Europe. It has a long, wavy edged, spear-shaped leaf emanating from a long, thick, fleshy, pungent root.
What does it do: The origin of the plant is obscure. Hooker believed it was native to Hungary, although it was known to the Greeks as ‘wild radish’ and is venerated as one of the five herbs consumed at the Feast of Passover by the Jews.
Horseradish is a stimulent, rubefacient, diuretic, antiseptic, antiscorbutic and a popular cure for intestinal worms. Medieval herbalists used it to restore appetite in invalids and wounded soldiers. In combination with mustard seed it made an infusion to combat dropsy and oedema (fluid retention). Naturists claim that the root has antibiotic properties. Modern herbalists use extracts of horseradish to treat infections of the mouth and gums and make poultices to treat rheumatism and bronchitis. It is recommended as a method to eliminate excessive mucus and to treat lung and urinary infections.
The French and German people preferred horseradish as a condiment: Gerard states ‘…the Horse Radish stamped with a little vinegar put thereto, is commonly used among the Germans for sauce to eate fish with and suchlike meates as we do with mustarde’. Parkinson, writing later, described the sauce to be suitable for ‘country people and strong labouring men in Germany, but too strong for the gentle and tender English stomach’. Culpepper used the root freely to treat ailing joints and paralytic complaints for which he prepared scrapings from the root that were applied to a light bandage and placed on the affected parts. He states ‘if bruised and laid to a part grieved with the sciatica, gout, joint-ache or hard swellings of the spleen and liver, it doth wonderfully help them all’.
Until very recently country folk used horseradish to treat worms in children, claiming it not only expelled, but killed them.
Today the sauce is a popular accompaniment to roast beef and smoked fish.