Picture of horseradish root

How and where to forage for wild horseradish

Make the most of mother nature, with foraging advice from our expert, Fraser Christian

Horseradish is found growing wild virtually everywhere – you may have passed it by and simply mistaken it for dock leaves. One quick scrunch of the leaves in your hand will reveal the deep but refreshing smell of the horseradish. Its pungent, almost intoxicating aroma quickly starts the digestive juices working and it’s a must with anything roasted, especially beetroot!

Where you’ll find it
Banks, hedgerows and ditch edges are good places to start, but wherever a piece of root has fallen by chance or other, it’s sure to have gained a foothold. If you grow it in the garden be sure to use a big pot or container, for fear of it spreading like wild fire. It’s best to look for roots well away from human activity, where the ground or soil hasn’t had anything chemical sprayed on it that may be present in the root itself.

How to forage it
After the first frosts or some really cold nights, the leaves will turn brown and wrinkled. Make a note of where the plants are by means of a marker – a painted stone or stick will do. Now wait until the plant dies right back and then go find your markers and dig the root up before the next frost – not during, or you may break the fork handle! Dig around the plant, lifting slightly as you go until the whole plant is raised. Keep the plant whole and unwashed until you use it, stored in a paper bag. But remember: the fresher the root, the better the flavour.

How to identify it
If you’re already familiar with a dock leaf, then the leaf of the horseradish plant will seem very similar at first glance. The long, green spear-shaped leaves are ribbed and fairly strong, with a thick central stalk. The plant produces small white flowers and can get really big and cover vast areas – this is a good place to dig as the year-old roots are the best and freshest. It’s usual to find small plant communities huddled together, probably created from the same original root or from one central larger plant.

Break off a small part of the leaf and rub it between your hands; it should immediately give off the familiar mustard-like smell of horseradish. The roots are similar to small, long parsnips in appearance and colour.

What you can do with it
The real powers of the wild horseradish are found when the leaves have died back in the winter, when the strong and pungent flavours are concentrated in the roots. Once cut or dried, the flavours become slightly bitter if left undressed, so always cook with the root or pop it into some vinegar as soon as possible.

The most common use of horseradish root is as a sauce (see recipe left), but it can also be added freshly grated to soups, pie mixes and stir-fries. The leaves don’t have to be thrown away, either. A mixture of pre-steamed vegetables, pulses and rice can be wrapped up in the strong leaves and baked or roasted – this imparts a subtle flavour to the food and is a neat way of serving.

Wild Forage

Wild Forage organises wild food and foraging courses along the seashore and in the countryside. Courses are run for small groups anywhere in the UK, plus individual courses in most southern counties. You can learn how to correctly identify and cook wild foods, as well as discover their medicinal and cosmetic qualities. For more info, visit www.wildforage.co.uk

HUNTER-GATHERING: wild & fresh food

Wild Horseradish: Secret spot, Sussex.

Apologies for the lack of update round these parts, but to be quite honest with you, its been a glorious summer- I have been practically living in the woods running courses at HGC HQ…mind you, I would much rather spend my time out in the wild enjoying it than sat in front of a computer- I think many of you will concur!

So, 7 years. 7 Years I’ve been inanely scribbling away about wild foods on this here blog and not once truly covered one of the greatest additions to the wild larder that has ever graced our soil. Horseradish.

Introduced to Britain pre-1500AD, over the years, horseradish has won over the natives of our angry island primarily as an accompaniment to beef. It seems only fitting that this fiery plant has become such a hallmark of British culinary tradition, because…and lets face it, we are a bunch of introvert, angry, whinging folk- we’re just very good at keeping our thoughts to ourselves!

Quite often I will order a roast in a country pub just so I can enjoy a bit o’radish with a Yorkshire pud. Coleman’s hot stuff is fine with me, something of the Tabasco addict coming through. What’s disappointing is when a pub tries to make there own and royally screw it up. Is it that difficult, really?

Horseradish is split into two catagories: Cultivated and Wild. Some of you may remember that delightful love story called ‘the wild gourmets?’ In the book following the series, the rather dishy Thomasina Miers is pictured fondling a rather straight, firm root which is labeled as ‘wild horseradish’- absolutely not. It was in fact cultivated horseradish that was pictured (the TV ‘fluffing’ not quite carrying over into book form) which looks like a fat parsnip and doesn’t contain the same heat as it’s warped, wildling of a cousin.

The twisted ‘Donkey ear’ like leaves of Wild horseradish.

Wild Horseradish is incredibly common and at this time of year the large, curled ‘donkey ear’ leaves can be easily distinguished from dock on most roadsides and country lanes- that said, you must have permission from the land owner to uproot any wild plant, but given that wild horseradish is more invasive than the Nazis and almost as difficult to get rid of, it probably wouldn’t be missed (but seriously- do get permission).

Roots Manuva.

A good little tip for storing horseradish root once dug up- keep it in a bucket of soil or sand and give it an occasional glug of water- don’t leave too long or it will start sprouting!

Wild horseradish’s difference in appearance to the cultivated variety is awesome: Twisted, knarled roots that zigzag their way into the earth making them a bastard to uproot, but best of all, being the precursor to the cultivar- they are proper fierce. Like, real dangerous. The danger can be found in the high levels of a volatile oil contained in the root called sinigrin, which in itself sounds like Dickensian villain.

Sinigrin is released when the root is tampered with, most violently when it’s grated, not many things enjoy this process I’m sure, but Wild horseradish really lets you know it’s not happy to the point that it’ll make your head bleed. Of course this is all over embellishment somewhat- in the same way mustard gets up your nose, when sinigrin is broken down via cutting or grating it will produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil) which can seriously irritate the sinuses, eyes and mucous membranes. Bear in mind that with in a couple of hours of grating, the volatile oils that make wild hoseradish what it is will evaporate and become bitter and not quite as punchy. And you thought onions where a bitch…

Grated wild Horseradish: Stings the nostrils…

As part of our bushtucker trials on stag do’s at HGC, horseradish takes pride of place after deer testicles. Strange, you may think- after all, what could be worse than a bollock exploding in the mouth? You obviously haven’t tried chewing a chunk of wild horseradish for 2 minutes. We’ve seen grown men cry and even vomit. Danger, danger.

The second plant we are going to look at was introduced to me by Mark Williams of Galloway Wild foods: Arsesmart (Persicaria Hydropiper- what a cool name) or Water Pepper. Historically in the UK, this plant hasn’t been used to its full culinary merit, instead it was mixed in with straw or hay bedding as a flea repellent, on occasion a leaf or two might have found its way into a nook or cranny of the sleeping occupant and the residual heat would cause a ‘smarting’ or burning sensation, hence Arsesmart.

Arsesmart or Persicaria Hydropiper: Likes damp places…

Now Arsesmart is really common, most damp places or riversides will often be lined with the stuff, it is something that is really easy to identify: the leaves are long and pointed- similar to willow and the alternate leaves are marked on the main stem by a pinkish/red collar.

Arsesmart is certainly the closest you can get to a wild chilli in the UK, it would appear that despite having several active ingredients, the heat comes from waburganal and rutin producing a pungent taste and slight bitterness- rutin is a bioflavinoid that is good for circulation- so despite the fierce heat, its actually good for you. Japan seems to be one of the few countries that employ this plant in the kitchen serving alongside sashimi and Kobe beef.

On first taste, not a lot happens, a couple of revolutions of the mouth and a searing heat spreads across the tongue, making it almost unpalatable- ride it out if you can! Here at Hunter Gather Cook we like to show you how to use these plants as everyday ingredients, so with a bit of nip and tuck, here are two ways to transform these spicy freaks of nature into something quite tasty.

Wild horseradish sauce.

This is a mainstay in most of our courses that involve Deer- the perfect accompaniment to a venison burger or even to go with a hefty chunk of pan-fried backstrap.

  • 2 TBSP of Grated wild horseradish
  • 4 TBSP of Crème fraiche
  • 1 tsp of English Mustard (or Dijon if you’re French and a bit of a wuss).
  • 1 TBSP White wine vinegar
  • Salt & Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well and season to taste. Serve!

HGC’s Venison Carpaccio with Wild horseradish & Sorrel.

Wild Wasabi:

Trditionally made with the green root of Wasabia Japonica also known as Japanese horseradish, in this case

I took the liberty of popping down the road to Seaford heads to obtain some of the freshest mackeral out of the sea for this recipe. The blowtorch just happened to be lying around…sears a fillet to perfction in less than a minute!

  • 1 TBSP of Grated horseradish
  • 1 TBSP of finely Chopped Arsesmart
  • A pinch of Salt
  • Drizzle of olive oil

Place all ingredients in a pestle & mortar and pound vigorously until combined.

Other stuff.

The Hunter Gather Cook team had an epic 4 days at Wilderness Festival at Cornbury park a couple of weeks back. We had over 150 people in 3 days for Deer Butchery & Foraging workshops followed by wild cocktails and canapés in our woodland lounge. Thanks to all of those who attended and we hope we have released a new breed of Hunter-Gatherers into the wild! Look forward to next year’s Festival where HGC will be going BIG! Check out the photo album from the Festival on our Facebook page.

We have a few places left on the remainder of 2013’s courses, our ‘Fish, Forage & Feast’ on the 28th September at Chalk Springs will be a belter of a day as well as my birthday- so come celebrate with us!

Also our epic Autumn ‘Fungal Foray & Feast’ is almost sold out with a couple of spaces remaining on the second date: Sunday 20th October.

…to the TREES!

Venison Berbere Skewers- Wilderness Festival 2013.

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When I was growing up, horseradish was something that lived in a jar in the back of the refrigerator. It wasn’t until a few decades later that I discovered horseradish as a garden plant — and the delights of using it fresh in the kitchen.

Homegrown horseradish has a clear, fresh taste and packs more zing than the store-bought variety. It also ranks in the top five easiest-to-grow edible plants because it thrives in almost any condition.

Growing Horseradish

Magdalenawd/getty

Horseradish is a rugged, cold-hardy perennial that grows best where there’s enough of a winter to force the plants into dormancy. You can choose from two widely available types of horseradish: common horseradish, which has broad, crinkled leaves, and Bohemian, which has narrower, smooth leaves.

Choosing a Site

Horseradish thrives in full sun but tolerates light shade. As for soil, horseradish can take almost anything but consistently waterlogged conditions. Site your horseradish in an out-of-the way spot because you won’t want to move this perennial once it is planted.

Planting

Grow horseradish from plants or root cuttings set out in spring or fall. You won’t be able to find seeds, but roots are often available at farmers’ markets, supermarkets, and retail and mail-order nurseries. (Root cuttings from nurseries generally come precut and just need to be planted.)

Cut off the top third to half of the root to use in the kitchen, saving the bottom part to plant. Loosen the soil to 12 inches deep and add a shovelful of compost. Plant the root cutting at a 45-degree angle, with the top of the cutting 2 inches below the soil line. One plant is usually plenty for a family. If you love horseradish so much that you need more than one plant, space them 30 inches apart.

Growing

Horseradish needs little or no attention in order to thrive. To keep the plant from looking ratty, water it once a week during dry spells and use a couple of inches of mulch around the plant to help conserve moisture.

Problem Solving

The most common issue gardeners face with horseradish is not how to grow it but how to keep it from growing where they don’t want it. To control its spread, remove the entire root, including its branches, when harvesting. Then replant only the number of roots you desire as plants for the following season. Whatever you do, don’t till up ground containing horseradish root or place roots in your compost pile, because you risk spreading the plant all over the garden.

Harvesting

Dimijana/getty

You can enjoy your first horseradish harvest one year after planting. Carefully dig away the soil from around the main root, taking care to free up the side roots and remove them at the same time. For the best yields, Oregon State University recommends harvesting after frost kills the foliage. Scrub the main root under running water and dry well. If enclosed in a perforated plastic bag, horseradish root will keep in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator for three months or even longer.

Newbie hint: For smoother, straighter, fatter roots, the University of Illinois recommends removing the suckers — leaf-bearing sprouts that form above ground. When the plants are about 8 inches tall, use a sharp knife to cut off the suckers, leaving only three or four at the center of the crown.

Preparing Horseradish

cegli/getty

Freshly grated horseradish emits fumes that can make your nose run and irritate your eyes, so prepare it in a well-ventilated area or even outside if your eyes are extremely sensitive. First, peel a 3- to 4-inch section of root as you would a carrot. Cut it into half-inch chunks and drop them in a blender or food processor. Add 1/4 cup cold water and a bit of crushed ice and grind to a fine texture.

Making Horseradish Sauce

Customize the heat of your horseradish sauce by adding white-wine or rice-wine vinegar. For mild horseradish, add the vinegar immediately, either right after grinding is complete or during it. If you like stronger flavor, wait three minutes to add the vinegar. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt for each cup of grated horseradish.

In either case, pulse the machine to blend in the final ingredients. If your preparation has too much liquid, simply drain some of it off through a fine strainer until you get the consistency you want. Store your fresh horseradish in a clean jar in the refrigerator, where it will keep for four to six weeks.

Tip: Grating horseradish releases the volatile oils (isothiocyanates), which give horseradish its heat. Adding vinegar stops the enzymatic reaction. The longer you wait to add vinegar, the hotter your prepared horseradish will be.

Cooking With Horseradish

Most of us know horseradish as a classic accompaniment to hot or cold roast beef. Here some other ways to use the inimitable flavor of homemade horseradish. When using horseradish in hot dishes, add it just before serving, as cooking destroys its flavor.

  • Mix homemade whipped cream with a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and horseradish for a heavenly accompaniment to steamed fresh asparagus spears.
  • Blend with yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraiche to make a delicious dip for raw vegetables. Add fresh herbs to taste.
  • Mix a bit into softened butter, along with chopped chervil, and serve on a grilled steak or melted over steamed beets.
  • Stir a teaspoon into homemade mashed potatoes.
  • Use a lemon zester to grate a few threads right off the root to make a pungent garnish for grilled fish, especially salmon and fresh tuna.
  • Add to your favorite homemade or prepared barbecue and shrimp cocktail sauces.

The cashier blushed as my distinctly phallic horseradish root rolled down her conveyor belt at Metro last week.

Apart from its suggestive shape, horseradish has been celebrated for more than 3,000 years for its blast of eye-watering, sinus-clearing heat.

When the long beige root is grated, the crushed cells release a volatile compound called isothiocyanate. Mixing the cream-coloured shreds with vinegar stops this natural chemical reaction and produces a condiment for meat, fish and vegetables.

Those of British descent may or may not have fond memories of horseradish sauce accompanying their Sunday prime rib. Toronto oyster fans have probably watched a shucker grate a blizzard of pungent shreds onto their plate.

Hailing from the same family as mustard, wasabi and radish, horseradish is also beloved by Germans, Scandinavians, Russians and Eastern Europeans. Though its strength may vary, the fresh root is usually stronger than the jarred version with a sharp, clean taste.

As Passover approaches April 10, this homely root plays a significant role in the two evening Seder meals.

To commemorate the bitter enslavement of the Jews in Egypt centuries ago, guests dip thin slices of peeled horseradish, considered a bitter herb, maror in Hebrew, in charoset, a sweet sauce of fruit and nuts before eating. In another Seder ritual, guests munch horseradish sandwiched between slices of unleavened matzo bread.

Wholesaler Ezio Bondi of Bondi Produce says the No Frills and Metro stores in North Toronto each go through about 1,000 pounds of horseradish a week during Passover.

It’s a hot time in the city.

Buy and Store

  • About 60 per cent of the world’s horseradish grows around Collinsville, Illinois, where the root is harvested in spring and fall.
  • Choose a firm root with no spongy or soft spots. Avoid sprouting or green-tinged roots.
  • To preserve the heat, wrap in a slightly damp paper towel then a dry one and refrigerate for several weeks.
  • Keep jars of store-bought or homemade prepared horseradish refrigerated and use ASAP. As it ages it turns brown and loses its potency.
  • Serve horseradish in a glass or ceramic bowl as it tarnishes silver.

Prep

  • Peel horseradish with a sturdy peeler or sharp paring knife.
  • Grate fresh horseradish just before serving on a metal grater, a Microplane or in a food processor. Beware, it’s 1,000 times stronger than onions!
  • Sprinkle on roasted meats before cooking to add a milder turnipy flavour, or add at the end for a spicy finish.
  • Prepared horseradish: Peel 8 oz (225 g) fresh horseradish root and grate coarsely. Grind in a food processor with 2 tbsp (30 mL) distilled or white wine vinegar and 1-1/4 tsp (7 mL) kosher salt until it breaks down to fine shreds, scraping sides as needed. Stand back when you open the lid! Add another 2 tbsp (30 mL) vinegar and a pinch of salt and pulse to a coarse paste. Seal in a jar or airtight container and refrigerate up to 1 month. Makes 3/4 cup (180 mL).

Serve

  • Grate horseradish root over sliced tomatoes, hot vegetables and soups instead of pepper.
  • Glaze Easter ham with apricot jam, grated horseradish and a little Dijon mustard.
  • Use with sushi instead of wasabi.
  • Add to hummus or guacamole.
  • Sprinkle on beef or pork sandwiches.
  • Add a little grated horseradish to mayonnaise or salad dressing.

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  • Combine with sour cream, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sugar as a sauce for smoked fish.

  • Serve with scrambled eggs and add its zip to devilled eggs.
  • Mix with ketchup to create cocktail sauce. Add a splash to tomato juice.
  • Add to mashed potatoes, meatloaf and the sour cream atop a baked potato.
  • For spring, blend horseradish with softened cream cheese. Spread on thin slices of rare beef tenderloin and wrap around tender-crisp asparagus spears.

Red Horseradish (Chrein)

Cooked beets help, slightly, to mellow the sharp taste of horseradish (chrein in Russian). This classic Eastern European condiment is traditionally served with gefilte fish (poached, ground and seasoned) but pairs well with any firm white fish.

2 medium beets (10 oz/300 g), scrubbed

3 oz (90 g) piece fresh horseradish root, peeled

1/4 cup (60 mL) cider vinegar

2 tsp (10 mL) salt

1 tsp (5 mL) granulated sugar

Trim beet stalks to 1 inch (2.5 cm) and place beets in a medium saucepan. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and boil gently 30 to 40 minutes or until tender when pierced. Drain. When cool enough to handle, slip off and discard skins.

Meanwhile, grate horseradish with a Microplane, the small holes of a box grater or a food processor. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in vinegar, salt and sugar.

Grate cooked beets the same size and stir into horseradish mixture until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Makes 1 1/2 cups (375 mL).

Cynthia David is a Toronto-based food/travel writer who blogs at cynthia-david.com.

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Horseradish Care In Pots: How To Grow Horseradish In A Container

If you have ever grown horseradish, then you are only too well aware that it can become quite invasive. No matter how carefully you dig it up, there will undoubtedly be some bits of root left behind which will then be only too happy to spread and pop up everywhere. The solution, of course, would be container grown horseradish. Keep reading to find out how to grow horseradish in a container.

Horseradish History

Before we get into horseradish container growing, I want to share some interesting horseradish history. Horseradish originated in southern Russia and the eastern region of the Ukraine. An herb, it has traditionally been grown for centuries for not only culinary use, but medicinal uses as well.

Horseradish was incorporated into the Passover Seder as one of the bitter herbs during the Middle Ages and is still used to this day. In the 1600’s, Europeans were using this spicy plant in their foods. In the mid-1800’s, immigrants brought horseradish to the United States with the intention of developing a commercial market. In 1869, John Henry Heinz (yes, of Heinz ketchup, etc.) made and bottled his mother’s horseradish sauce. It became one of the first condiments sold in the United States, and the rest is history as they say.

Today, most commercially grown horseradish is grown in and around Collinsville, Illinois – which refers to itself as “the horseradish capital of the world.” It’s also grown in Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and California as well as in Canada and Europe. You, too, can grow horseradish. It can be grown as an annual or as an herbaceous perennial in USDA zone 5.

I couldn’t resist imparting some interesting facts, but I digress, back to planting horseradish in pots.

How to Grow Horseradish in a Container

Horseradish is grown for its pungent, spicy taproot. The plant itself grows in clumps with the leaves radiating out from that root. It grows to between 2-3 feet in height. The leaves may be heart shaped, tapering or a combination of both and may be smooth, crinkled or lobed.

The plant blooms in late spring to early summer and becomes fruit that contains 4-6 seeds. The main taproot, which can reach more than a foot in length, is off-white to light tan. The whole root system can be several feet long! That’s why container grown horseradish is a great idea. You would have to dig a heck of a hole to get all of the root system out and, if you don’t, here it comes again, and with a vengeance the next season!

When planting horseradish in pots, choose a pot that has drainage holes and is deep enough to encourage root growth (24-36 inches deep). Although horseradish is cold hardy, plant your container grown root after all danger of frost has passed or start it indoors.

Take a 2” piece of root cut at a 45-degree angle. Place the piece vertically in the pot and fill in with potting soil amended with compost. Cover the root over with one inch of the soil mix and one inch of mulch. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, and place the pot in a full sun to semi-shady area.

Horseradish Care in Pots

Now what? Horseradish care in pots is pretty nominal. Because pots tend to dry out more quickly than in gardens, keep a close eye on moisture; you may have to water more often than if the root was in the garden.

Otherwise, the root should begin to leaf out. After 140-160 days, the taproot should be ready to harvest and you can make your own version of Mr. Heinz’s mom’s horseradish sauce.

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