"To relieve

an heavy cold,

grate horseradish

and inhale the fumes

that arise"

--"Receipt" from an old Herbal

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(Cochlearia armoracia rusticana)

This hardy perennial of the mustard family began life somewhere around the Caspian Sea in Eastern Europe, then moved up through Russia into Poland and Finland. Some claim it was used in ancient sites as far removed as Egypt, Greece, and England--others believe it is a relatively recent cultivation (i.e., about 2000 years old).

By the 13th century, horseradish was grown in Western Europe. Germans ate both the leaves and the root. By the middle of the 16th century, it was naturalized in England as a German import--from thence it went to the new world with the early colonists. How it got to Japan to become the glorious green wasabi is anyone's guess.

A member of the Cruciferae family (meaning, its flowers are made up of four petals in the shape of a Greek cross). It's related to mustard and cress and can grow a 2-foot long root. It's an extremely hardy plant--and tough to get rid of, as any remaining piece of its root in the ground will regenerate as a new plant.

Horseradish root has antiseptic and stimulant properties--and aids in digesting rich and oily foods. Some people mix a little horseradish into salads, believing it wards off colds and chills--and gets rid of persistent coughs.

What gives it its kick? A glycoside called sinigrin that releases horseradish's acrid sulfur-bearing oil through enzymatic action. But continued heat reduces the pungency dramatically--so it should always be added at the end of cooking at a low temperature.