Herb of the Year 2011

Editor’s note: The following article was adapted from a story originally published in “Horseradish: Herb of the Year 2011” by the International Herb Association.

As a traditional herbalist and food writer, I have long been interested in the healing power of food and the benefits of plant medicine. Horseradish is a member of both camps – a powerful food and a medicinal plant.

At first glance, one would never suspect the bite of heat contained in this mild-looking root. But once the root is scraped or grated, a volatile oil called allyl is produced as its glucoside sinigrin comes into contact with its enzyme myrosin. According to renowned herbalist Maude Grieves, it is only when these two substances meet that isothiocyanate, also contained in black mustard seed, is created: this accounts for the pungent, hot, yet subtly sweet taste of horseradish.

A recent study by the University of Illinois shows that horseradish contains substantial quantities of glucosinolates – compounds shown to increase human resistance to cancer. The power of this ‘humble hot shot’ root is created chemically when it is grated or agitated to release constituents that, when put together, produce magic! An effective daily dose of horseradish can be as little as 1 gram or less than a teaspoon. (

Horseradish contains antibacterial, antibiotic, anti-parasitic, anti-anemic, and aperient properties. It is also a coronary vasodilator, a digestive, a diuretic, and an expectorant,  which means that it stimulates a number of body systems and can be used to aid mild circulatory problems, digestion, and water retention. I’ve used it to help to encourage timid appetites – a potent digestive elixir can be created by combining a small amount of horseradish with carminative herbs and apple cider vinegar.

According to Richard Mabey, author of The New Age Herbalist, “Horseradish is a powerful circulatory stimulant with antibiotic properties due to the mustard oil it contains. It is effective for lung and urinary infections because mustard oil is excreted through these channels.”

Pat Crocker, co-author with Nettie Cronish of the soon-to-be-released Everyday Flexitarian (Whitecap Books), comments: “Long before it found its way onto Sunday dinner plates between the mashed potatoes and the roast beef, horseradish was used medicinally. Indeed, Delphi, the most important oracle in Greek mythology, told Apollo that the radish was worth its weight in lead, the beet its weight in silver, and the horseradish its weight in gold.

“If you have ever sniffed the fresh cut root of this healing herb, you will know how easily it clears the sinuses. According to German Commission E, horseradish is medicinally effective for respiratory tract infections. When used with other herbs, horseradish medicines are shown to rival pharmaceutical antibiotics in treating bronchitis, cellulitis, haemophilus influenza, impetigo, pneumonia, sinusitis, Staphylococcus, strep throat, Streptococcus, and UTIs. It is rich in colon cancer-fighting glucosinolates and is thought to be helpful in treating bronchitis, cholesterol problems and ear infection, among other human ailments.”

Sinus pain due to blocked sinus passages and/or infection is probably the most common ailment for which I have personally used horseradish. Sometimes all that you need is  a quick, old-fashioned remedy:


Grate horseradish and put a smidge (1/4 tsp or so) in your mouth, holding it there until the flavour subsides, usually within 30 seconds, before swallowing. People tend to initially shy away from this remedy, but those who try this approach often find that blocked mucus loosens and drains, thus relieving sinus pressure in a short time. Doing this daily for a few days has resulted in the complete clearing of sinus infections for a number of my clients.

As a youngster, I consistently avoided any contact with that suspicious looking dish of horseradish passed around the dinner table. Over time, my dad became quite the gourmet cook and blessed us with years of new taste experiences. Eventually, the family came to savour the subtle heat in various condiments, sauces, or soups – courtesy of a dollop of horseradish cream, as it was called.

As an adult, I became reacquainted with fresh horseradish root and have grown to love this gnarly vegetable. Choose firm crisp roots: they should look somewhat like enthusiastic parsnips! Horseradish can keep in the fridge for a month, although mine never lasts that long.


I’ve come to realize that I feel a lot better when I choose foods that stoke my digestive fire and stimulate my eyes to tear and my nose to run; in other words, foods that help my body eliminate accumulated toxins while enhancing immune system function. In winter, I like to make a huge batch of chicken soup that friends, family, and clients have dubbed ‘healing soup’ due to its wonderful effects on well-being.

Vegetarians can substitute vegetable broth for the chicken stock and use shiitake mushrooms instead of chicken. This recipe is just a guide – the most important aspect of the soup is the combination of healing and warming herbs. Everything else is optional. I use the same “pack of healers” when making cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, squash, leek, potato, or corn chowder.  Sometimes I add pesto or a combination of shiitake, reishi, and turkey tail mushrooms, which have been ‘brewed’ and frozen into ice cube trays. Keep leftover soup in the freezer for a handy supper on cold winter nights.

2 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 onions, chopped
10-12 peeled garlic cloves
4 cups chicken (free-range or organic), in cooked, bite-sized pieces
Chicken stock – low sodium organic
2 cups of celery, carrots, parsnips, corn, peas (combined)
1 cup horseradish root, grated
2 inches ginger root, grated
1 tsp cayenne powder

In a soup pot over medium heat, heat the oil and add onions; saute until tender. Add 1-2 crushed garlic cloves at the beginning, but keep most until the very end to ensure garlic’s medicine is intact. Add the chicken stock, horseradish, ginger, cayenne, and a dash of salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the vegetables and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the cooked chicken. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add the remaining garlic and serve.


I love to add herbs to raw honey to create winter cold remedies. They’re easy to make and simple to change to suit what’s needed. Honey helps to coat the throat and relieves irritation. Both anti-microbial and antioxidant, honey helps to fight bacteria and viruses. Ginger helps to overcome the most common type of cold virus, the rhinovirus, due to a high sesquiterpene content. Horseradish packs a nutritive punch, but also helps liquefy phlegm, which can clear and relieve a cough.  Prepare this sweet remedy in advance for the next time you feel a cold coming on:

2 cups raw honey
1/2 of a ginger root, sliced or grated
1/2 of a horseradish root, grated

Combine fresh ginger root and grated horseradish in a pot of good quality honey. Place the formula in a glass jar, seal, and let sit for a couple of weeks, if possible.

Eat this potent honey by the spoonful to soothe sore throats and alleviate cold or cough symptoms, or add a teaspoon to a cup of sage tea.


At home, we like to add piquant or pungent condiments to both lunch and dinner. I’m a bit of a wimp with cayenne – it causes lips to burn or become numb – so I rely more heavily on ginger, onions, garlic, and horseradish. A number of quick condiments can be made using a basic recipe with many possible substitutions. It can be a paste, spread, sauce, or herbal butter. Play with the ingredients and use your imagination. Have fun.

3 Tbsp horseradish root, grated
1/2 cup tahini (or hummus, cream cheese, or 1/2 stick unsalted butter)
1-1/2 Tbsp minced chives (or thyme, rosemary, or your choice of herbs)
2 tsp prepared mustard (or 1 tsp dried mustard) or to taste
1-2 Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
1/2 – 1 tsp sea salt (to taste)

Measure all ingredients into a glass bowl and combine thoroughly. Serve with any dish that needs a flavourful boost.

Note: If making an herbal butter, I sometimes finish it with cracked peppercorns, lavender, or finely chopped calendula (or other edible flowers from the garden).



A new addition to my repertoire is a simple beet relish, courtesy of my friend Julie. It complements virtually any meat or vegetable entrée with a huge punch of flavour, is easy to make, and is highly addictive.

8 cups beets, grated or finely diced
1 cup horseradish, grated
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1/4 – 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 tsp sea salt
4 cups apple cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Pour hot mixture into sterilized jars, seal, and refrigerate. Keeps for one to two weeks.


This easy-to-make spicy condiment has been well-received in my home for years. This recipe came from a friend, so I don’t know its original source. I’ve since altered it and tried it with pears as well. It adds spark to conventional traditions.

4 tart apples (Granny Smith or similar), grated
1-2 Tbsp unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
4 Tbsp fresh horseradish, grated
1-2 tsp paprika or 1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp apple juice or white wine (optional)

Grate the horseradish into a bowl. Add the apples, vinegar, and paprika or cinnamon. If more moistening is desired, use white wine or unsweetened apple juice. Mix well and serve fresh with vegetable, meat, or cheese dishes.

Whichever way you decide to use this powerhouse herbal heat wave, I am confident that horseradish will enhance your life by adding a kick to your daily meals, and by doing so, bring a happy tear to your eye and a spring to your step.

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