Horseradish healing

horseradish photo by Jerry Pank

Horseradish photo by Jerry Pank

Can that little jar of horseradish in your fridge cure cancer?

Like its cousins, the other cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cabbage, fiery nose-tingling horseradish has high levels of glucosinolates (more than ten times broccoli’s). These chemicals — in horseradish’s mustard oil — break down inside us into indoles and isothiocyanates, which are said to provide anti-cancer benefits by helping the liver rid itself of cancer-causing substances and even slowing down tumor growth. The processing, or grating, of horseradish breaks it down and helps release enzymes that make it more effective. Although many studies have supported this effect, more clinical trials with human subjects may be needed to confirm it.

Cancer-fighters or not, these glucosinolates subdue bacteria that cause disease. They have been proven as a natural antibiotic for many ills, from urinary-tract to sinus infections. They also increase blood flow and reduce waste products.

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We’ve been turning to horseradish for health for about 3000 years. The ancient Greeks used it as an aphrodisiac and to ease lower back pain. It became one of the five bitter herbs used at Passover, and later was used to treat TB, coughs, colic and scurvy. In the Middle Ages the English and Germans brewed horseradish ale with tansy and wormwood, and today a horseradish vodka — Referent — is distilled in Wisconsin. In the colonial era of this country we embraced it, started bottling it in 1860, and now we produce about six million gallons per year of prepared horseradish.

The horseradish plant Armoracia rusticana, along with radishes, kale, mustard, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, is in the family Brassicaceae. This cold-hardy perennial needs little fussing in the garden, just dividing every few years, and the flavor of the freshly grated root trumps the jarred variety.

Every part of the plant from root to leaves has medicinal value, but it’s worth seeking out for its nutrition benefits alone. Free-radical fighting vitamin C is abundant in horseradish, so consuming it can fight off signs of aging on the skin, build collagen for healing muscle and bone cells, strengthen immunity and stave off inflammation, heart issues and cancer. Low-cal, fat-free and full of fiber, it also has potassium and calcium, plus iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and a bit of B vitamins.

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