This perennial, mint-like plant is covered in white fur. A tough, fibery rootstock sends up many bushy, square, downy stems and grows from 12 to 20 inches. The circular to broadly ovate wrinkled leaves are bluntly toothed at the margins. The upper surface is grayish and less hairy than the lower surface. Dense whorls of off-white flowers are found in the axils of paired, leaf-like
bracts. The calyx tube has ten tiny hooked teeth at the rim.
Family: Brassicaceae (Mustard family)
Other Names: Mountain Radish, Pepperrot, Red Cole, Stingnose
Flowers: May – July
Parts Used: Root. (Only undried horseradish if effective. The root can be preserved for months inside the refrigerator.)
History: Related to broccoli, cabbage, and mustard; horseradish is thought to have originated in middle Europe. It is still a very popular condiment for foods in Germany and surrounding areas. Although horseradish is now grown as a crop in many mild-climate countries, the majority of the world’s supply comes from the Mississippi River flood plain in southwestern Illinois.
Today, horseradish is rarely used in the United States for medicine. It is cultivated mainly for use as a condiment to enhance the flavor of foods—particularly meats. Historically, however, it has had many medical uses. It was mixed with lard or made into a poultice and applied to the chest for relief of the coughing and chest congestion associated with colds and other respiratory conditions. Believed to be one of the first “cough syrups” a mixture of horseradish and honey or horseradish boiled with sugar water was also given for coughing. Because it promotes the production of urine, horseradish has been used to relieve bloating or swelling.
Constituents: Volatile oil, isothiocyanates, and glycosides. (Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its easing of throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The glycosides are responsible for the reddening effect, by increasing blood flow to the area, when horseradish is applied topically.
Properties: Diuretic, rubefacient, and stomachic.
Main Uses: The volatile oils give horseradish its medicinal properties. Inhaling horseradish oils or taking horseradish by mouth promotes blood flow in nasal and sinus tissues, thereby possibly relieving upper respiratory congestion. Laboratory studies have shown that horseradish may also have mild antibiotic effects, so it may help to eliminate bacteria that contribute to some respiratory infections. Horseradish is approved for treating upper respiratory tract conditions by the Commission E of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medicinal Devices, which is the German government agency that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of herbal products. The United States does not have a comparable organization.
In Germany, it is being used along with prescription drugs for relieving the symptoms of urinary tract infections. It is believed that the chemicals in horseradish concentrate in the urine, and therefore deliver antibiotic effects to the bladder. They may also activate specific enzymes that help to keep toxins — including known cancer-causing chemicals — from accumulating in the bladder. Horseradish also stimulates the body to eliminate urine, so infective or damaging agents in the bladder may be flushed out sooner than they normally would be eliminated.
Grated horseradish may be mixed with oil or made into an ointment and applied to the skin. A horseradish poultice may also be used topically. A poultice consists of a soft cloth that has been spread with grated fresh horseradish and then applied to the skin. Topical horseradish is used to relieve muscle or joint pain or, if applied to the chest, to reduce lung congestion. The volatile oil and other chemicals in horseradish are believed to widen blood vessels that are close to the skin’s surface. The resulting increase in blood flow causes the skin to redden and creates a feeling of warmth that relieves muscle or joint aches.
Preparations & Dosages: The freshly grated root can be eaten in the amount of 1/2 to 1 teaspoon three times per day. Horseradish tincture is also available and can be used in the amount of 2 to 3 ml three times per day.
Vinegar: Cover finely grated horseradish with vinegar and let it stand for 10 days. Take 1 teaspoon two to three times per day, well diluted with water. This can also be applied externally.
Poultice: Spread freshly grated root on a linen cloth. Lay the cloth on the affected area, until a burning sensation is felt.
Syrup: Steep 1 teaspoon root in 1/2 cup boiling water in a covered pot for 2 hours. Strain and add sugar until syrupy consistency is reached.
Cautions: Very high doses of horseradish can cause vomiting or excessive sweating. Direct application to the skin or eyes may cause irritation and burning. Horseradish should be avoided by patients with hypothyroidism.