2011 Herb of the Year: Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)

From fiery to fabulous, this spicy root is a flavor-lover's dream.

| February/March 2011

  • Grow harvest horseradish, and reap the benefits of this pretty plant's peppery roots. Horseradish can bring out the flavor in even sweet dishes, and allyl isothiocyanate, a chemical in the root, is a natural decongestant.
    Photo by ©2011 Steven Foster

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is a botanical superhero, able to clear sinuses, boost the flavor of sauces and provide lush vegetation in a single bound. Its versatility and under-appreciated ubiquity make the horseradish plant a perfect candidate for the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year.

Horseradish-Infused Recipes: 

Aïoli with Horseradish
Asparagus with Horseradish Sauce
Mashed Potatoes with Horseradish
Beet Gratin with Horseradish
Pimento Cheese with Horseradish
Individual Pear Crisps with Horseradish
Shrimp Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing
Basic Coleslaw
Baked Carrots with Horseradish
Leek and Celery Root Gratin with Horseradish 
Online Exclusive Recipe: Simple Mayonnaise with Horseradish Sauce 

In Herbs, Spices and Flavorings (Overlook, 2000), Tom Stobart describes the flavor of horseradish as exceedingly pungent and “apt to run up the nose,”  a description that fairly well describes its path. The direct opposite of “slow burn,” horseradish races up your sinuses and instantly makes its presence known. This quality probably accounts for one of its folk names, “stingnose."

Regardless of what it’s called, Armoracia rusticana is an herbal root with a deep history. Horseradish was well- known to the Egyptians by 1500 b.c. Early Europeans primarily used horseradish as a medicine. For centuries, the root was rubbed on sore joints to relieve rheumatism, and pressed upon foreheads to relieve headaches—a practice that actually may have helped alleviate sinus-type pain. By the Renaissance, the root of horseradish achieved renown as a savory meat relish in Germany, and its popularity spread from there.

The first sales of prepared horseradish were recorded in the 1860s, making it a forerunner of convenience foods.

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