Many people are familiar with horseradish as a spicy ingredient that can be added to fish and meat dishes, sauces and curd cheese. The horseradish root gets its characteristic spicy flavour from the mustard oils it contains. It is precisely these ingredients that make horseradish interesting as a medicinal plant. Read on to find out more about horseradish, its cultural history and its internal application in the fight against pathogens.
Occurrence and distribution of horseradish
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana G. Gaertn. et al.) belongs, like white cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi and rapeseed, to the crucifers or the cabbage family (Brassicaceae). The horseradish plant originally came from southern and eastern Europe. In those parts of Europe horseradish is known as kren and it is found in numerous traditional recipes. In those regions you can also often find wild varieties of horseradish.
Large-scale cultivation takes place in regions like Franconia (the area around Nuremberg) and in Styria. Nowadays, commercial crops of horseradish are also grown extensively in the USA, particularly in the region around Collinsville (Illinois). The US crops were originally grown from plants imported from Germany – or more specifically, from Spreewald.
Appearance of horseradish
Horseradish is a herbaceous plant characterised by large leaves that can grow up to 50 centimetres in length. Its leaves are connected to thick basal stems. The plant’s roots are used for medicinal purposes and for cooking. Each root can reach a length of up to 60 centimetres. The roots have a brown exterior and are white and fibrous on the inside.
Horseradish plants flower from May to July. Each inflorescence can grow up to 120 centimetres high. Its yellow-green buds develop into white flowers with a diameter of between 1 and 1.5 centimetres. The flowers are clustered in grape-like formations. After flowering, the plant forms pods that often do not fully mature.
History and tradition of horseradish
Horseradish has a particularly long history in the Bavarian region of Germany and in parts of Austria, where it is also known as kren. Horseradish sellers, called Krenweiberl, would sell horseradishes door to door, carrying baskets of the freshly harvested roots on their shoulders. People bought the horseradish roots to cook traditional recipes or to improve their health. Nowadays, in the age of the modern supermarket, this vocation is long gone.
The wasabi used in Japanese cuisine today contains mostly horseradish root (Armoracia rusticana) and not wasabi root (Eutrema japonicum). The reason is the rarity of the wasabi plant.
Horseradish has always been considered particularly healthy. For centuries people in Bavaria, Austria, Slovakia, South Tyrol and the Czech Republic have used it in a variety of traditional ways to improve their health. Time-honoured remedies were used externally to redden the skin or ingested to treat scurvy, oedema and malaria.
Active ingredients and effects of horseradish
If you’ve ever grated horseradish or accidentally put too much in your mouth, you’ll be familiar with the peppery, stinging sensation that rises up into your nose and can make your eyes water. This is caused by mustard oil glycosides (glucosinolates). They are not only responsible for horseradish’s pungent flavour – they’re also good for your health. Among other things, they can fight bacteria and relieve inflammation. That is why the plant can be used to treat numerous kinds of infections.
In additional to mustard oils, horseradish also contains vitamin C, vitamin B1, B2 and B6, a range of health-promoting minerals, as well as allicin (the substance that also gives garlic its characteristic scent).
Horseradish as a medicine
Horseradish’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects make it ideal for treating various kinds of infections. Fresh horseradish is traditionally grated and prepared with alcohol as a tincture. The grated root is mixed with honey as a home remedy for coughs. But these days you don’t necessarily have to grate pungent horseradish roots fresh, because horseradish powder can be found in several herbal medicines.
In medicinal preparations, horseradish root can be used to treat bladder infections and acute inflammatory diseases of the bronchi and sinuses. Medicinally, the horseradish root is used, for example, in combination with nasturtium herb. When combined, these medicinal plants can be used to tackle a wide variety of different bacteria.
This is general information. For individual advice, contact a specialist.