I have always loved horseradish sauce but as a youngster I doubt I even knew what a horseradish looked like let alone giving its health benefits much of a thought. It turns out that horseradish is not only a tasty plant that goes well with a sandwich but it is also extremely good for you…a sure bonus.
Horseradish or Armoracia rusticana to give it its scientific name is a perennial plant belonging to the Brassicaceae family that also includes broccoli, cabbage and mustard. The plant is a native of Southeastern Europe and West Asia though nowadays it is cultivated elsewhere in the world mainly for its large white, edible root.
When intact, the root is nearly devoid of any aroma but when it is cut up or grated, the enzymes from the plant’s cells and produce allyl isothiocyanate or mustard oil which can irritate the eyes and the mucus membranes.
History of Horseradish
There is nothing new in the cultivation of horseradish which dates back to antiquity. In Greek mythology, horseradish was described as being worth its weight in gold. It is mentioned in Ancient Egyptian texts and by Cato in his Roman treatise on agriculture. Also in Rome, Piny mentions the medicinal qualities of the plant in his book ‘Natural History’ dating back to the first century AD.
In the Middle Ages, both the plant’s leaves and the root were utilized as medicine while it also grew in popularity through Europe as a condiment for meat dishes. When North America was colonized, it was introduced by the Europeans and is mentioned by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
Interesting Facts about Horseradish
- Horseradish actually tarnishes silver so be careful not to use any silver dishes or flatware when you are preparing it.
- Funnily enough horseradish is actually toxic to horses. Though I guess the horses wouldn’t see the funny side.
- Studies have found that horseradish peroxidase – one of the enzymes present in horseradish can cleanse waste water of various pollutants.
- Around 6 million gallons of this root vegetable are consumed in the USA each year.
- Many stages of the production process including planting, harvesting and growing are still carried out by hand.
The reason that horseradish is believed to be so good for your health can be attributed to the high levels of various nutrients and minerals. It is very high in dietary fiber as well as folate, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, magnesium and manganese. It also contains other useful organic chemicals, oils and enzymes such as glucosinolates which are known to help protect against cancer.
A tablespoon of horseradish provides the following :
- 7 calories
- 7.9 mg of omega-3 fatty acid
- 42.7 mg of omega-6 fatty acid
- 0.5 grams of dietary fiber
- 47 mg of sodium
- 3.7 mg of vitamin C
- 8.6 micrograms of folate
What are the Health benefits from Eating Horseradish?
Boosts the Immune System
As we have already mentioned, horseradish is packed full of beneficial nutrients including essential minerals and phytochemicals which are responsible for the root’s well-known, pungent aroma. Some of the compounds found in horseradish are excellent natural antioxidants which can help stimulate improve the body’s white blood cell supply and protect us from illness.
Horseradish also contains a high level of Vitamin C which is also known to boost the body’s immune function. It goes without saying that a healthy immune system is absolutely critical to overall health and preventing illness from developing.
Antioxidants also help protect the body’s cells from free radical damage and protect against disease while they also have a significant anti-aging effect.
Protection Against Cancer
According to recent research, horseradish contains several compounds that can help detoxify the body and eliminate cancer causing toxins from the body. A compound found in horseradish known as glucosinolate goes through certain chemical reactions which activate enzymes responsible for detoxifying the body of harmful free radicals linked to cancer.
The research conducted by the University of Illinois was able to document the anti-cancer abilities of the enzymes found in horseradish for the very first time. The research team noted that horseradish contained around ten times higher levels of glucosinolates than its cousin – broccoli meaning that you don’t need to eat plates full of the stuff to stay healthy. (1)
Urinary Tract Infections
Because of its natural antibiotic properties, horseradish root is very effective in treating acute UTIs or urinary tract infections. Most of the time, UTIs are treated with a course of antibiotics but given the potential side effects and the ongoing concerns about bacterial resistance, a more natural remedy may be desirable.
Horseradish root also contains a glycoside called sinigrin which has natural diuretic properties meaning it can help eliminate toxins through the urine. Because of these activities, horseradish may also help treat urinary tract infections and kidney infections. Horseradish also contains a compound called allyl isothiocyanate which researchers believe can also contribute to healing urinary tract and bladder infections. (3)
Horseradish is completely devoid of fat and extremely low in calories and would certainly be a great addition to a weight loss plan. Horseradish also contains omega 3 and 6 fatty acids which are essential to the body’s metabolism.
Being high in dietary fiber and protein, horseradish can help you feel more sated and less likely to snack during the day. The resultant reduction in calorific intake can help you to lose weight in the long run especially if it is part of an overall plan.
Getting more fiber into your diet is crucial to improved digestive heath. Additional fiber can help bulk up the stools allowing you to overcome common conditions like constipation and diarrhea and bloating. Horseradish also contains numerous phytochemicals and compounds that help stimulate digestion and improve the absorption of nutrients.
Horseradish is a good source of the potassium which is essential to improving blood flow and widening the arteries. A deficiency in potassium is linked to high blood pressure and high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke and other heart diseases like atherosclerosis.
Eating plenty of potassium rich foods like horseradish can have a major impact on your heart’s health in the long run and will help keep heart disease at arm’s length.
Although it is not the richest source of calcium, horseradish does contain modest amounts of the mineral associated with bone health and repair. Getting plenty of calcium into your diet is essential to help your bones grow and regenerate and to protect them from debilitating bone conditions such as osteoporosis.
While admittedly not the highest source of calcium, horseradish can certainly contribute to your daily dose.
Because it is packed so full of essential minerals, important vitamins and proteins, horseradish and lacking in fat, horseradish can help the way protein is metabolized by the body.
It ensures that proteins are utilized efficiently to repair the body and bolsters the immune defenses against illness. Eating horseradish can help increase your energy levels helping you to stay more clear-headed, focused and physically able.
Horseradish contains a good amount of folate and folate is considered essential for the development of your unborn child. A deficiency has been linked to neural defects in newborn children so it is essential for expectant mothers to get sufficient amounts of it into their system.
If you have ever sliced or grated a horseradish root, you will be familiar with the pungent, eye-watering aroma that it gives off. This odor is actually part of what makes horseradish so good for you. It can help to clear up any excess mucus in the respiratory system and sinuses. Inhaling fresh horseradish can really help to clear the respiratory system helping you to breathe more comfortably.
Horseradish has some mild diuretic abilities that help stimulate both the frequency and volume of urination. This can be beneficial in detoxing the system, helping to shed excess water weight and treating conditions like gout. If you are already taking diuretic medications, you should get advise from your doctor before eating too much horseradish.
The Allyl isothiocyanate found in horseradish has powerful and natural antimicrobial effects that can help defend the body from numerous bacterial infections including Staphylococcus aureus and E.Coli.
Studies have also demonstrated that horseradish can help treat other types of infection including yeast infections like Candida albicans. (2)
Another animal study found that horseradish could enhance the antimicrobial activities of phagocytes which help us to fight off illness and infection. (4)
How to Purchase and Prepare Horseradish
You can easily find fresh horseradish in markets almost the whole year round with spring being the best time to purchase it. The roots are usually two to four inches in length but the entire root can be as long as 20 inches. When choosing your horseradish roots, look for a section which is firm with no soft moldy or green portions. Avoid very dry, shriveled roots because they are not very fresh.
If you cannot find good, fresh horseradish, then it also comes already prepared often preserved in salt and vinegar. Horseradish sauce is also available but usually comes with a number of added ingredients. This is often sold in supermarkets in the refrigerated area of the store. Dried horseradish root is also available and this can be used after hydrating it with water.
You store horseradish in a similar way to storing ginger. You can either keep it cool in the refrigerator or keep it sealed in a plastic bag. But be careful since it tends to dry out just as soon as you cut it. You should use it no more than two weeks from the time you bought it. Unless you have grated the horseradish then freezing is not recommended but frozen, grated horseradish can be used for up to six months.
The longer you allow horseradish to sit, the more it loses its pungent flavor and if it begins to darken or get moldy, it is time to throw it away.
To prepare your horseradish, peeling is made easier by first removing the dark skin with a stiff brush. Remove any fibrous roots because its taste is very bitter. After peeling your horseradish, you can grate or chop it which intensifies its flavor. Alternatively, you can make life easier by using a food processor. This can give you a very finely grated spread that you can use to accompany your meats or add to a sandwich spread.
If you have no idea how to use the vegetable, there there are plenty of excellent horseradish and horseradish sauce recipes to be found on the internet.
Horseradish is typically eaten in quite small amounts and there are no health concerns in normal dietary portions.
One thing to note is that horseradish has a high sodium content and the majority of its calories are from sugar so be careful not to overdo them.
It is also worth noting that because of their diuretic action, people with kidney conditions and those who are taking diuretic medications should consult their doctor before eating horseradish.