|Sonia Uyterhoeven is Gardener for Public Education.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we all eat it. It spices up our cocktail sauce, adds pizzazz to our Bloody Mary’s, seasons our roast beef, camouflages the slippery fishy taste of raw oysters and is served as an herb at the Passover Seder. For me, it is a key ingredient in my meatloaf recipe.
How many of us grow horseradish? It is one of the easiest things to grow in the garden. It will take full sun or part shade and tolerate basically any type of soil. In fact, it will be so comfortable growing in your garden it will be hard to get rid of it. Preparation will be more of a challenge. If you tear while chopping onions, open all your kitchen windows and prepare for a flood while grating the horseradish root.
60% of the world’s supply of horseradish is grown by German immigrants in Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi river. The soil in this area is ideal for horseradish – it is nice fertile soil that is high in potash. The area has long summers and cold winters. Optimal conditions mean healthier, large roots that are easy to harvest.
Horseradish roots easily break off and the pieces will grow into new plants. It is best to put it in the corner of your garden where it is out of the way and make sure you place it where you want to keep it. Horseradish or Armoracia rusticana is in the Brassicaceae family. It is related to cabbage and kale.
Its foliage looks like a hybrid between sorrel and kale and the root – the edible part of the plant – is reminiscent of parsnip. The best time to plant horseradish is in the spring. Harvesting will either happen late in the fall or sometime in the following year. Horseradish is a perennial herb and once the root is harvested – the crown of the plant and a small portion of the root can be successfully replanted.
You don’t have to pay much attention to your horseradish but it will be happier if you water it during dry spells and give it a layer of mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Make sure that you do not fertilize it with a high nitrogen fertilizer that will push leaf growth at the expense of the roots.
Horseradish gets its smell and intense flavor from volatile oils that are released when it is grated. Harvest the root and chop off what you intend to use for several weeks. The rest of the root will store whole for several months in your refrigerator.
The easiest way to prepare it is pare the outer layer with a potato peeler. Chop into cubes and place in a blender. Start to blend and add some water and vinegar to the mix. The vinegar in the mix stabilizes the flavor of the horseradish. If you would like a milder preparation add the vinegar sooner than later. If you like it hot, then grind for about 3 minutes before adding. It will store in the refrigerator for a month and for much longer in the freezer.
If you are in Illinois in June then go to Collinsville on June 4-5 to experience the International Horseradish Festival. If you can’t make it there are plenty of good recipes on the web.