While fresh horseradish isn’t something most of us have in the fridge, and isn’t even really something we think of eating outside of cocktail sauce, it is actually a flavorful crop that’s perennial (a big plus in the gardening world) and easy to grow.
Horseradish is cold hardy. It can tolerate some partial shade if need be. It grows with such vigor that it’s more of a threat to take over the garden than die away. Whatever the case, the root is the part we commonly eat, but the young leaves also make peppery additions to salads.
In other words, there’s more to the horseradish than just the root, and there is more to the root than just cocktail sauce. Horseradish sauce, the grated root mixed with (vegan) mayo, is also delicious. Plus, in the winter time, when the sniffles are starting, nothing clears a nose quite so convincingly as fresh horseradish tea.
Horseradish Plant Specs
Horseradish, like ginger or turmeric (other awesome spices), is propagated via cuttings from the root. In fact, the plant is so resilient and wily that, once established in a bed, it will likely come back year after year. Even though it’s the roots we are harvesting, a small morsel of one remaining in the soil will likely grow a new plant in the spring.
In essence, horseradish above the ground is but a collection of large leaves. There are several different varieties: Old strains have large, broad leaves of nearly a foot wide, but the commercial versions found in the store are of Czech origins and have significantly narrower leaves. Either way, they can be treated the same way, and the newer leaves are decent to eat.
It’s best to plant horseradish in the spring. Nurseries will sell “crowns” that can be planted, but it’s probably much cheaper to just buy the root from a supermarket and plant that. It’s an amazingly trouble-free propagator.
A few weeks before the last frost date, after the ground has thawed, the roots can be planted. They perform best, like just about everything, in moist but well-draining soil and thrive on relative neutral pH levels. To plant them, the roots should be situated on a slant with the narrow end pointing down and the flat end up.
Horseradish the Crop
While the young leaves can be harvested throughout the summer growing season, the horseradish roots begin to store and fatten up in the early fall for an autumn harvest. Harvesting is in the late fall after a few frosts have knocked back the leaves, and fresh horseradish can be harvested into winter, until the ground is frozen. If any roots are missed, they can be dug up in the spring. Two or three plants is likely enough for a household’s annual needs.
In the spring, it’s probable that wherever last year’s horseradish was grown, this year’s will start there. It’s very much weed-like and will continually grow where it has been planted, becoming somewhat difficult to remove. In other words, while it’s a fun and easy crop to grow, it should be planted with caution. Some people prefer to just grow it in pots, like mint, to prevent it from taking over the garden bed.
The other thing horseradish is good for is stoking the compost pile. The large, rich leaves are too tough, bitter and spicy to eat, but they are great nitrogen bulk for the compost bin.
Using Horseradish Root
For the most part, horseradish root is used as a condiment, which doesn’t sound like a particularly sexy crop to cultivate, but it is a lot of fun. A small bit of grated horseradish goes a long way. To store it for a while, the root should be grated, put into a jar with a pinch or six of salt and a couple of tablespoons of vinegar.
If the flavor suits your taste buds, it can be cleverly incorporated into lots of stuff to zip up burgers, sandwiches, slaws, sauces, and drinks. In that way, horseradish makes a surprise component to pull fresh from the garden. It’s something many of us might otherwise not think to have.
Lead Image Source: Flickr