By Dr. Mercola
If it were wine, horseradish might be described as having an earthy, robust flavor, accompanied by an oddly sweet heat that warms you to your core. One taste and its intensity radiates not so much in your mouth as in your sinuses.
A cold-hardy plant, horseradish can be called a spring, fall or winter crop. Harvest by loosening the dirt around the plant with a digging fork (for minimal damage) before pulling out the roots. Cut off the tops and store them in a cool place until needed.
For ultimate freshness and heat, peel and grate for whatever dish or therapeutic use you may have.
As a condiment, horseradish is often prepared into a sauce to eat on prime rib or roast beef sandwiches. Some say it's red when it's used on shrimp (mixed with ketchup), and white when it's spread on beef.
Either way, it adds a kick of both heat and flavor, but be aware that heat from your stove will diminish the heat in the horseradish. Grated into casseroles, salads, mashed potatoes, deviled or scrambled eggs, this root is a versatile attention-grabber that can light up any dish or beverage.
Referred to botanically as Cochlearia armoracia, horseradish was referenced in the Greek Delphic Oracle as being worth its weight in gold. Some early Greek healers, finding no Icy Hot in the bathroom cabinet, had the wisdom to use horseradish as a rub for low back pain.
While it has a long tradition to represent "bitter" in Jewish Seder meals, horseradish was also suggested as an aphrodisiac in both Egypt and Greece. You've probably figured out that horseradish has nothing to do with either horses or radishes. Maybe it's a euphemism for radishes with a kick, which isn't a bad metaphor.
Where Does the Heat Come From?
Horseradish is a perennial plant native to Russia, Europe and Western Asia, but today it's grown across the globe. A member of the Brassicaceae family with cabbage, mustard and wasabi, the leaves and root have been recognized in the annals of medicine for thousands of years.
Incidentally, wasabi (Wasabia japonica) is a root plant from the same genus and native to Japan. The notoriously aromatic green condiment called "wasabi" requires horseradish, which is actually slightly hotter. Ironically, most of the wasabi sold in the U.S. is really just horseradish blended with dry mustard and food coloring.
Horseradish roots don't have much of an odor until you cut into them. Nick the skin and you'll get a powerful whiff of its unique, aromatic essence.
After it's cut and allowed to rest for 20 minutes or so, the strong essence begins to abate, unlike the zest from a habanero pepper, which has a heat index comparable to that of horseradish.
However, the Scoville Scale,1 which typically measures the heat of peppers, is based on capsaicin content. In horseradish, it's from allyl isothiocyanate.
However, allyl isothiocyanate (AITC) is much more than just a heat- and flavor-loaded compound. Scientists concluded that AITC may be useful for bladder cancer prevention, among other malignancies. One report explained that AITC:
"Presents many desirable attributes of a cancer chemopreventive agent, including extremely high bioavailability after oral administration, rapid uptake by cells, microbicidal activity against a wide spectrum of pathogens, significantly higher toxicity in malignant cell than in normal cells, its ability to rapidly induce cancer cell death regardless of its tissue origin … "2
Horseradish Offers Many Health Advantages
You don't have to look far to find references to compounds and nutrients in horseradish that impart many good mechanisms for your body. A book3 on the topic lists many of them: "Horseradish has been reported to have antimicrobial, spasmolytic, cytotoxic, antiseptic, diuretic, stimulant, and antioxidant properties."
Horseradish is also a mild antibiotic, which stimulates urine production, so it's been used to relieve urinary infections. Best of all, long-term use only does your body good, unlike most prescription drugs. Plus, symptoms such as urinary tract and sinus pain are not simply alleviated as they are with pharmaceuticals.
For the areas not covered, studies4 have indicated many other uses that can benefit nearly every area of your body:
✓ Joint and muscle pain
✓ Urinary infections
✓ Chest congestion
✓ Water retention
✓ Respiratory disorders
✓ Cold and flu
✓ Sinus infections
The Sinus-Impacting Bouquet of Horseradish Conveys Health Benefits
Calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus are some of the most prominent minerals in horseradish. Besides fiber and vitamin C, this seemingly humble root contains volatile oils such as mustard oil, which is an anti-viral that can help you fight infection.
Natural antibacterial agents contain even more cancer-killing compounds, with multiple detoxifying chemical reactions and expressions to the human body to its credit.
But the fragrance of this root is particularly effective against sinus infections because it helps rid your body of mucus in the sinuses, where bacterial infections often start. Stores of this thick substance accumulate deep in the nasal cavities, making it difficult to get rid of.
Some herbalists recommend horseradish preparations just for this purpose. Once your nostrils are introduced to the strong kick of horseradish, the mucus often can't help but begin flowing, which is the signal that the infection is on its way out of your body.
A recommended recipe to clear mucus from your nose, as well as congestion from your chest, is called the "Sinus Plumber."5 Be careful breathing it as you make it, because the fumes are powerful! It calls for:
- An 8- to 12-inch-long chunk of horseradish root
- 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. water
- Pinch of salt (to taste)
Stir the ingredients together in a small glass jar, which can be stored in the refrigerator for four to five weeks. Eat one-half to 1 tsp. two to three times a day for as long as it takes for your congestion to begin clearing up.
You can dilute the mixture into one-quarter cup of tomato juice to make it more palatable if desired, but full-strength is best.
Glucosinolates: Flavor, Heat and a Whole Lot More
As already discussed, horseradish is related to broccoli. Multiple studies have extolled the organosulfuric, chemoprotective glucosinolates in broccoli, especially in broccoli sprouts,6 but horseradish contains the same amount 10 times over!
A recent University of Illinois (UI) review7 demonstrated how these powerful cancer-fighting enzymes work in horseradish:
"In the new study, the team looked for the products of glucosinolate hydrolysis, which activate enzymes involved in detoxification of cancer-causing molecules. These are compounds that could help detoxify and eliminate cancer-causing free molecules in the body."
Scientists also found that different species of horseradish contain varying amounts of glucosinolate molecules, and that the "premium" strain, U.S. Fancy, has the most.8 Still, the cheaper strains (U.S. No. 1 and U.S. No. 2) contain quantities that are nothing to sneeze at, according to UI food crop scientist Dr. Mosbah Kushad:
"We knew horseradish had health benefits, but in this study we were able to link it to the activation of certain detoxifying enzymes for the first time. There was no information on whether the USDA grade of the horseradish root is associated with cancer preventive activity, so we wanted to test that."
Glucosinolates, also found to affect the metabolism of hormones, are concentrated in horseradish greens as well as the roots, according to The George Mateljan Foundation,9 which provides scientifically proven, commercially-independent information on foods:
"We should also be thinking about spices like brown mustard seed, yellow mustard seed, and horseradish as cruciferous vegetables, because they are! Health-supportive molecules like glucosinolates are concentrated in these spices in the same way that they are concentrated in the leaves of the plants (like mustard greens or horseradish greens)."
More Healing Compounds Attributed to Horseradish
Sinigrin is a glucosinolate — possibly as much as 90 percent of the total — found in crucifers such as cabbage and horseradish. An article10 on a site dedicated to disease prevention noted:
"One of the most powerful glycosides found in horseradish, sinigrin has been found to relive the symptoms of water retention, due to its stimulating effect on the blood capillaries. Horseradish is rubefacient, an agent that stimulates blood flow below and to the surface of the skin."
Another study11 explained how the pH of AITC against E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus (a bacteria), and S. cerevisiae (baker's yeast) stood up against sodium benzoate, a widely used food preservative linked to hyperactivity and behavioral problems.
Scientists determined that AITC was between six and 21 times more inhibitory to the growth of Gram-negative E. coli than benzoate, and three to 45 times more inhibitory to S. aureus. The study conclusion was that the main heat and flavor ingredient in horseradishes (and other Brassicaceae veggies) is much stronger than sodium benzoate. According to a disease prevention magazine:12
"Even within individual prostate cells, glucosinolates beneficially influence the metabolism of hormones, which may explain why a higher consumption of mustard family vegetables is associated with a lower risk for prostate cancer.
In addition, one of the anti-carcinogens produced, allyl isothiocyanate (AITC) demonstrated 90 percent absorption when ingested. Horseradish's pungent flavour is primarily caused by the AITC. This compound is produced from the hydrolysis of sinigrin by the enzyme myrosinase."
Food as Medicine — What a Novel Idea
Hippocrates was right! When you look at all the compounds, enzymes, nutrients and minerals in food such as horseradish, and find they really can impact your health for the better, you learn that food truly can be your medicine, just as medicine can be your food. If fully appreciated, another of the "father of medicine's" famous proverbs would be beneficial for impacting peoples' health:
"A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses."