Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Can you take the heat?

I’ve been in a daring mood lately. So daring in fact that over the weekend I bought a horseradish root to plant. A member of the mustard family, horseradish (Armoracia lapathifolia) gets approximately two feet tall and 18 inches wide with small white flowers. This pungent herb was once used to treat a variety of ailments including tuberculosis, scurvy, food poisoning, and colic. It is also included in the 5 bitter herbs used during Passover.

Horseradish is planted approximately 4-6 inches deep. It prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade. A soil pH of 5.5-7 is best. Planted in the spring, it can be harvested in the fall. For the most pungent flavor, it is advised to wait until after the leaves have seen frost. One plant will produce about 1 pound of root, needing no fertilizer (if planted in compost) and occasional water. You can harvest either the tap (main) root or the lateral roots, but one-year old plants supposedly have the best flavor, so replant a portion after your harvest.

The notion to plant horseradish has been bumping around in my brain for the last several seasons. When husband and I were first together, his dad gave me a mammoth horseradish root from his yard, with the stern warning never, ever to plant horseradish because you will never get rid of it. Hmm. Sounds like a challenge. I looked up several methods of processing the root to make prepared horseradish and set about grating it. The root pulled from the ground is fairly neutral, no odor, no tang. It is only when the root is ground and the cells pulverized that it releases it’s isothiocyanates and you are really in trouble. Every recipe I found warned against inhaling the vapors of freshly ground horseradish. Did I listen? No, of course not. I stuck my head right over the blender full of freshly ground root and was instantaneously very very sorry. I think I went blind for a little bit, and what felt like very strong acid made it’s way slowly up my sinus cavity and into my brain. Wow. Strong stuff. Adding vinegar stops the release of the offending volatile oil, so you add it right away if you won’t be using the horseradish to strip paint, or you wait awhile to add it if you want your future cocktail sauce to make people faint. I waited awhile cause I luv me some horseradish. When it makes you double over and clutch your head, its perfect. That batch got eaten pretty quickly and I’ve never had homemade again, just the stuff from stores which is quite tame by comparison. So I’ll try my luck at growing it.

I’m still debating whether to plant this legendarily aggressive plant in a contained space or perhaps to throw caution to the wind and plant it unfettered directly in the garden. I see myself battling horseradish in the lawn in years to come. I will keep you posted.

Said the Delphi Oracle to Apollo, "Radishes are worth their weight in lead, beets their weight in silver, but horseradish is worth it’s weight in gold" (possibly because they used it as an aphrodisiac). So any stories of triumphant horseradish cultivation out there?


Blogger El said...

I cannot ABIDE the stuff, but I am a generous soul so I planted some for my husband last year. He harvested a root for rutabaga mashers at Thanksgiving, and grated some for cocktail sauce later. Ours hasn't spread (yet) and I am keeping my eye on it. I planted it in the perennial veg bed with the asparagus, artichokes, cardoon, and rhubarb. I thought of putting a metal edger around it (9" into the ground: I use roof flashing) if it decided to go nuts. It's actually a really pretty plant, with two very different kinds of leaves.

12:09 PM  
Blogger cyndy said...

oh my, I would heed yur elders!

My father gave me the same stern warning (he also told me horseradish would put hair on my chest...and that never happened...)

...foolish gal that I am, and one who loves the stuff too -(esp. when it makes me nostrils flair!)-
I planted my horseradish (15 years ago) in a nice deep bed, next to the rhubarb, (which we have since moved because well, the horseradish took over.)

I always have plenty of horseradish now, enough to share with my neighbors and friends and those egg customers that like it.

So go ahead and sow your horseradish root in the garden with wild abandon!...as long as you agree to give up ever wanting to control this herb...it needs to run free! PS..it is a heavy feeder and loves aged manure...

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep us informed on how this goes. I love horseradish, but have never planted it. Now, that I wll be leaving this place in a few years, I won't try it.
Do you have rhubarb there? I wonder how far south that grows? My mom could never get it going in Oklahoma.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Rurality said...

Heck no! Bury that thing as deep as you can and stay far, far away! :)

Besides the heat effect, I really don't like the taste of it. I can tolerate a little wasabi now and then though. :)

8:41 AM  
Blogger meresy_g said...

No, I have not grown rhubarb. Lots of people have it around here though, so might be something to think about trying.

I love wasabi. I even like those little pea things that make you catch your breath.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this stuff (your post) for a few weeks now.

I'm going to give it a shot too.

I'll let yuo know what happens.

11:56 AM  

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