but also has promising potential in fighting cancer.
What is Horseradish?
Scientifically named Armoracia rusticana, horseradish is a perennial plant that belongs to the same family as mustard, broccoli and cabbage, and is most commonly cultivated for its white root, though the leaves and flowers may also be used medicinally. It’s believed to have originated in southeastern Europe and western Asia, but is now grown all over the United States and in other parts of Europe.
The plant grows to about 5 feet tall, and grows best where the winters are harsh enough to force plants into dormancy. Rugged and well adapted to the cold, it does like full sun during the growing season, but isn’t so picky about soil, unless it’s waterlogged. Harvest usually occurs in the fall, with refrigeration best preserving the root.
In cooking, the root can be used like garlic when freshly grated, making a nice addition to dressings, sauces, and marinades. It spoils quickly, though, which is why it’s so often found mixed with vinegar, salt, and sometimes cream, as these preserve the root. (Lemon juice, mustard, mayonnaise and salad dressing may also be added.) The leaves, called “horseradish greens,” can also be eaten, though it’s uncommon to do so.
The root itself is low in calories, with each tablespoon containing about 8 mg of calcium, 37 mg of potassium, and about 4 mg of vitamin C. It also contains a number of healthful phytochemicals.
5 Health Benefits
The heat of the root comes from a compound called “isothiocyanate” that is released only when the root is crushed or ground. It protects against pests during the plant’s life, released from compounds called “glucosinolates” only when the flesh is broken.
These glucosinolates and other healthy phytochemicals are responsible for the plant’s health benefits.
- Anti-cancer: A 2005 study from the University of Illinois found that horseradish was a rich source of glucosinolates—compounds shown to help the liver detoxify carcinogens and to suppress the growth of existing cancer tumors. Researchers noted that horseradish contained more than 10-fold higher glucosinolates than broccoli, meaning that a little dab with a steak could potentially provide health benefits similar to a serving of broccoli. The magic is released when the root is processed. That’s when enzymes break down the glucosinolates into the compounds that produce anti-cancer benefits. A later 2008 study noted that when glucosinolates break down, the resulting products are thought to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. They noted that isothiocyanates and indoles, which are present in horseradish, induce cancer-protective genes in the body.
- Sinusitis: Horseradish has long been used to help clear the sinuses. Some recent studies indicate it may be helpful in treating sinusitis, as well. In 2007, for example, researchers found that a combination of horseradish and nasturtium (another herb) could be helpful for children with sinusitis. In fact, the herbal treatment was comparable to treatment with standard antibiotics. Herbalists recommend mixing the grated root with wine vinegar, and breathing in the fumes every hour for five minutes or so. You can also hold the mixture in your mouth for a few minutes and then swallow. The University of Michigan Health System recommends consuming one-half to one teaspoon of the freshly grated root three times a day, or one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of the tincture three times a day.
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs): The natural antibiotic properties of the root led the German Commission E to approve it as an adjunct treatment to prescription drugs for UTIs. In a 2007 study, researchers gave patients either a combination of horseradish and nasturium or a placebo for 90 days. The herbal treatment helped treat chronically recurrent UTIs. The herb has been shown to help kill the bacteria that cause the infections. More studies are needed but this may be a good one to add to your natural anti-bacterial arsenal.
- Muscle aches: Horseradish is known to help stimulate blood flow, making it effective in relieving muscle aches and pains. The German Commission E recommends its external use for minor muscle aches. Herbalists sometimes recommend combining it with olive oil to create your own massage oil for muscle pain relief.
- Diuretic: Those who suffer from edema or other water retention problems may want to add horseradish to their meals more often. The root is known traditionally as a natural diuretic, helping to increase urine flow and flush fluids out of the system. A 2013 study on the herb noted that it has been reported to have diuretic properties, and another study the same year noted that the components in the root create diuretic properties.
Other Potential Benefits
Horseradish was also used traditionally as a treatment for food poisoning, because of its ability to kill off harmful bacteria. Considered a “gastric stimulant,” it may also help encourage the secretion of digestive enzymes, so the stomach better processes what you eat.
Animal studies have found that horseradish can stimulate the production of immune-supporting antibodies that help fight off infections. The fact that it is a great source of vitamin C also contributes to its immune-boosting power, while phytochemicals like isothiocyanate help encourage the production of white blood cells.
Do you use horseradish for its flavor or health benefits, or both?
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“A Little Dab of Horseradish Could Help Resist Cancer,” College of ACES, University of Illinois, March 9, 2005, http://news.aces.illinois.edu/news/little-dab-horseradish-could-help-resist-cancer.
Hayes JD, et al., “The cancer chemopreventive actions of phytochemicals derived from glucosinolates,” Eur J Nutr. 2008 May;47 Suppl 2:73-88, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18458837.
Goos KH, et al., “On-going investigations on efficacy and safety profile of a herbal drug containing nasturtium herb and horseradish root in acute sinusitis, acute bronchitis and acute urinary tract infection in children in comparison with other antibiotic treatments,” Arzneimittelforschung 2007; 57(4):238-46, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17515295.
Albrecht U, et al., “A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of a herbal medicinal product containing Tropaeoli majoris herba (Nasturtium) and Armoraciae rusticanae radix (Horseradish) for the prophylactic treatment of patients with chronically recurrent lower urinary tract infections,” Curr Med Res Opin, 2007 Oct;23(10):2415-22, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17723159.
Steinman Rm, Cohn ZA, “The interaction of particulate horseradish peroxidate (HRP)-anti HRP immune complexes with mouse peritoneal microphages in vitro,” J Cell Biol. 1972 Dec; 55(3):616-34, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4656704.
Denys J. Charles, “Horseradish,” Antioxidant Properties of Spices, Herbs, and Other Sources, 2013; pp 347-351, http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4614-4310-0_30.
Mihaela Roxana Cirimbei, et al., “Study on herbal actions of horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), Journal of Agroalimentary Processes and Technologies 2013, 19(1):111-115, http://www.journal-of-agroalimentary.ro/admin/articole/59761L19_Vol_19_1__2013_111-115.pdf.