How to Grow and Use Horseradish

This ancient root provides this perfect balance of taste and health benefits.

| Fall 2013

  • Horseradish isn’t particular about soil or climate. It’s hardy even in extreme cold conditions so it over-winters easily.
    Photo by Jim Long
  • Prepared horseradish, when exposed to air, loses its flavor and heat rapidly, so only take out the amount you will use at a meal and refrigerate the rest.
    Photo by Jim Long
  • Most of the 24 million pounds of horseradish produced in the United States goes to producers who grind it into prepared horseradish. Some of it goes to whole foods stores where you will find the individual fresh root, shrink-wrapped and ready to grind in your own kitchen.
    Photo by Jim Long

Horseradish has a long and complex history, with records of its use dating back more than 3,000 years. Ancient Greeks rubbed the pulverized root on the sore, aching backs of athletes. The root was well known in Egyptian culture as far back as 1500 B.C. where it was used for sinus problems and strained muscles. Jews then, as well as now, use horseradish during Passover seders as one of the bitter herbs mentioned in the Bible.

The name we know the plant by today, horseradish, most likely came about because of a mispronunciation of the German word, “meerrettich”, meaning sea radish because it grew by the sea. The English mispronounced “meer” to sound like “mare” and that evolved into “mareradish.” The word “horse” was stuck in instead of “mare,” relating to the large, robust size of the plant’s roots. The “radish” comes from the Latin word, “radix” which simply refers to root. But unlike the name, which has evolved over time, the plant itself remains virtually unchanged since ancient times.

Horseradish is believed to have originated in Central Europe, where it spread northward into Scandinavian countries then on to England. By the mid 1600s, horseradish, chopped and mixed with vinegar to preserve it, had become the standard accompaniment for oysters and roasted beef across Great Britain. Early settlers to America brought horseradish roots with them and by the mid-1800s, the first large scale, commercial cultivation began. Today, the United States produces about 24 million pounds of horseradish, most of it going to producers who grind it into prepared horseradish you find in the grocery store. Some of it goes to whole foods stores where you will find the individual fresh root, shrink-wrapped and ready to grind in your own kitchen.

It Grows Everywhere

Because horseradish has been grown and used by such widely dispersed cultures, from the desert oases of Egypt to the steppes of the Ukraine, from the fertile farms of Germany to the cool and damp shores of England, then to America, therein lies a clue you can certainly grow horseradish in your own garden. 

Horseradish isn’t particular about soil or climate. To grow the best horseradish roots, ideal conditions would be fertile, sandy soil with average rainfall. Think of the fertile farmlands of Illinois, the state that produces the most horseradish in the United States. Illinois farmers produce excellent, long, straight roots that are sold domestically as well as abroad. 

In my own garden in Southern Missouri, I have no deep, sandy loam soil. I have lots of rocks and clay and average rainfall isn’t a given. My horseradish finds its way around the rocks in my soil, it penetrates the clay and I still grow the plant successfully. If you have poor soil like I do, I recommend digging out the rocks, make a large hole about 18 inches deep and 24 inches across, which you then fill with good, rich compost mixed with some sand and a cup of bone meal. Do that, then plant your horseradish in that spot.

12/13/2016 2:18:13 AM

Thanks for the info. FINALLY clear instructions about how to harvest horseradish! Mine's been growing for 3 or 4 years and I didn't know what to do with it. So next spring I'll dig it all up...



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