Cyprus Mail

Plant of the week: Leaves of antibiotic root used to treat scurvy

Name: Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)

Otherwise known as: Red Cole, Great Railfort, Mountain Radish

Habitat: An herbaceous perennial of the Cruciferae family growing up to 1m in waste areas near running water in south eastern Europe. It grows from a long, thin, rough, white root and produces large, green, spear- shaped, pungent, undulate leaves and displays panices of small, white, single-petalled flowers.

What does it do: The prefix horse referred to its strong and course nature. The ancients were familiar with the plant and Pliny recommended it as a diuretic and emetic. Horseradish was grated and used as a poultice on suppurating wounds and to reduce swellings on rheumatic joints. It was noted that German troops mixed it with vinegar and used it to dress fish and meats that might be spoiled and about to go off but the very pungent leaves and roots were considered too strong for the delicate English stomach. The French troops called it Moutarde’ des Allemands. Modern kitchens use the plant to complement roast beef and gammon.

The roots contain mustard glycocides, enzymes, calcium, sodium and magnesium as well as the vitamins B and C and it was recommended by Parkinson to create an infusion from the leaf for urinary infections and influenza. The root also contains antibiotic properties and medieval herbalists used oil extracted from the roots to stimulate appetite, improve circulation and as an expectorant for bronchitis. Mild cases of scurvy responded to a salad of the leaves.

Culppper stated ‘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’. He also used the leaves in wine to expel intestinal worms from children.

Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants

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