1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Horseradish

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HORSERADISH (Ger. Meerrettig; Fr. raifort= racine forte, cran de Bretagne; Swed. Peppar-rot, Russ. chern), known botanically as Cochlearia Armoracia, a perennial plant of the natural order Cruciferae, having a stout cylindrical rootstock from the crown of which spring large radical leaves on long stalks, 4 to 6 in. broad, and about a foot in length with a deeply crenate margin, and coarsely veined, the stem-leaves are short-stalked or sessile, elongated and tapering to their attachment, the lower ones often deeply toothed. The flowers, which appear in May and June, are 3/8 in. in width, in flat-topped panicles, with purplish sepals and white petals, the fruit is a small silica, which does not ripen in the climate of England. The horseradish is indigenous to eastern Europe. Into western Europe and Great Britain, where it is to be met with on waste ground, it was probably introduced. It was wild in various parts of England in Gerard’s time.

The root, the armoraciae radix of pharmacy, is 1/2 to 2 in. or more in diameter, and commonly 1 ft., sometimes 3 ft. in length, the upper part is enlarged into a crown, which is annulated with the scars of fallen leaves; and from the numerous irregular lateral branches are produced vertical stolons, and also adventitious buds, which latter render the plant very difficult of extirpation. From the root of Aconite (q.v.), which has occasionally been mistaken for it, horseradish root differs in being more or less cylindrical from a little below the crown, and in its pale yellowish (or brownish) white hue externally, acrid and penetrating odour when scraped or bruised, and pungent and either sweetish or bitter taste. Under the influence of a ferment which it contains, the fresh root yields on distillation with water about .05% of a volatile oil, butyl sulphocyanide, C4H9CNS. After drying, the root has been found to afford 11.15% of ash. Horseradish root is an ingredient in the spiritus armoraciae composites (dose 1-2 drachms) of the British Pharmacopoeia. It is an agreeable flavouring agent. In common with other species of Cochlearia, the horseradish was formerly in high repute as an antiscorbutic. The root was, as well as the leaves, taken with food by the Germans in the middle ages, whence the old French name for it, moutarde des Allemands, and Coles, writing in 1657, mentions its use with meat in England, where it is still chiefly employed as a condiment with beef.

For the successful cultivation of the horseradish, a light and friable damp soil is the most suitable; this having been trenched 3 ft. deep in autumn, and the surface turned down with a liberal supply of farm-yard manure, a second dressing of decomposed manure should in the ensuing spring be dug in 2 ft. deep, and pieces of the root 6 in. in length may then be planted a foot apart in narrow trenches. During summer the ground requires to be kept free of weeds, and the application of liquid manure twice or thrice in sufficient quantity to reach the lowest roots is an advantage. When dug the root may be long preserved in good condition by placing it in sand.

See Gerard, Herball, p. 240, ed. Johnson (1636); Flückiger and Hanbury, Pharmacographia, p. 71 (2nd ed., 1879); Bentley and Trimen, Med. Pl., i. 21 (1880).