Is your first response to hearing the word horseradish “yuck”? I hope not, for we often take this popular condiment for granted, not realizing how many health benefits it can provide. In fact, after researching about horseradish benefits, I firmly believe it should become your new condiment of choice.
Horseradish is a root vegetable that’s most commonly used as a spice. Known mostly for its strong flavor, when prepared it becomes a popular topping for meat and fish.
The entire horseradish plant has a long history in folk medicine and can help prevent and treat a number of common ailments. It falls into the category of a cruciferous vegetable, which are known for their plant compounds called glucosinolates. Because of these compounds, horseradish can help prevent cancer, fight off illness and disease with antioxidants, and provide a healthy mix of vitamins and minerals to help supplement a healthy diet.
With so many unhealthy condiments out there, it’s hard to find something to flavor your favorite sandwiches and meats without adding extra calories and less-than healthy ingredients. After reading about this amazing root, you’ll want to make horseradish your new go-to topping, as well as a regular part of your health regimen.
7 Major Health Benefits of Horseradish Root
1. Can Help Prevent Cancer
Glucosinolate compounds found in horseradish are responsible for their spicy flavor and are powerful in the fight against cancer. In the plant world, glucosinolates protect plants from toxic or harsh environments. Well, guess what? Horseradish has 10 times more glucosinolates than broccoli, so even in small amounts, you’re getting a lot of benefits.
Numerous studies, including one from the University of Illinois, have shown examples of horseradish helping to make the human body more resistant to cancer. (1) Other studies showed preliminary evidence of horseradish being able to invoke cell death in human breast and colon cancer cells, as well as prevent oxidative damage linked to free radicals. (2)(3)
As more research surfaces, the possibilities of using glucosinolates as chemopreventive agents are expanding. (4) (5) One study also showed that processing and preparing the root actually increases its anticancer abilities (which is very uncommon with vegetables), so cutting and grinding for preparation is completely okay!
2. Antioxidant Power
Free radicals can do major damage to the body, and consuming higher diets of antioxidant-rich foods can help eliminate or prevent this damage. Horseradish root has a number of phytocompounds, which are antioxidants and beneficial to human health. (6)
Some of the antioxidants found in horseradish are antimutagenic, which means it protects parts of the body from mutagens that can permanently harm them. There is evidence that mutations are to blame for heart disease and other common degenerative disorders. (7) Another study showed that extracts including horseradish were able to decrease DNA damage cause by zeocin, an antibiotic known to induce oxidative stress. (8)
3. Antimicrobial and Antibacterial
The oil responsible for the pungent taste of horseradish (as well as mustard and wasabi) is called allyl isothiocyanate, or mustard oil. This colorless oil is a known antimicrobial against a wide spectrum of pathogens. (9) Many studies show the profound antimicrobial and antibacterial capabilities of horseradish root.
There was a study done using horseradish essential oil to preserve roast beef and prevent spoilage. The beef with the added horseradish restricted the growth of most of the bacteria that would cause it to spoil. (10) Horseradish root also has positive effects on phagocytes, which are a type of cell in the body that engulf and absorb bacteria. A study in mice showed the horseradish enhanced antimicrobial functions of phagocytes, which helps to fight off infection and illness. (11)
4. Reduces Symptoms of Respiratory Illness
Because of horseradish’s antibiotic properties, it has been used for many years in traditional medicine to treat bronchitis, sinusitis, cough and the common cold. In a German study, an herbal drug using horseradish root was tested against conventional antibiotics. The incredible findings showed a comparable result in treating acute sinusitis and bronchitis with the natural extract when compared to conventional treatments. (12)
With antibiotic treatments causing so many adverse effects, as well as supporting further antibiotic resistance, these findings are very exciting. They also bolster the idea that more research is needed and necessary in decreasing antibiotic use and finding natural cures for common illnesses. The reality is that many antibiotics used to treat respiratory illness often aggravate the underlying cause and only suppress the symptoms of the illness.
Horseradish’s pungent smell also helps to expel mucus from the upper respiratory system to help prevent infection. When taking horseradish for sinus problems, it may feel like you are producing excess mucus, but this is actually what you want to happen. After a day or two, your body will have rid itself of wastes and that is a major step in preventing infection.
5. Cure for Urinary Tract Infections
Thanks once again to horseradish root’s antibiotic properties, it’s also very successful in treating acute urinary tract infections better than conventional antibiotic treatments, which usually involve a number of unpleasant side effects. (13) The glycoside sinigrin, also found in horseradish, is known to prevent water retention and therefore, makes it a successful diuretic, which can help to prevent kidney and urinary infections. The presence of allyl isothiocyanate, which is expelled via the urine and has proven anti-bladder cancer capabilities, may also be a reason for the positive effects on the urinary tract. (14)
6. Digestive Helper
Horseradish contains enzymes that stimulate digestion, regulate bowel movements and reduce constipation. Bile helps to rid the body of excess cholesterol, fats and other wastes, as well as generally support healthy digestive systems. Horseradish is considered a cholagogue, which is a substance that stimulates the creation of bile in the gallbladder. This helps aid in digestion. (15) Horseradish also provides a small amount of fiber, which is also very important to proper digestion.
7. Anti-Inflammatory and Pain Reliever
Horseradish was used by people in Ancient Greece to alleviate back pain, and many years later in the American South, applied to the forehead to help with headaches. Although more research is needed, there are many recommendations in traditional medicine to use horseradish topically for areas of the body with pain caused by injury, arthritis or inflammation. This may be due to the anti-inflammatory powers found in the variety of healthy elements in horseradish. (16)
Horseradish History & Interesting Facts
Originally from south-eastern Europe, horseradish is now found worldwide. In the Middle Ages, both the root and leaves of the plant were used as a medicine. Horseradish was a well-known diuretic, a treatment for respiratory illnesses, and even a cure for urinary tract infections.
Horseradish is a part of the Brassicaceae family, which also includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli and cabbage. It’s pungent aroma is only released when the root is cut or grated. Its strong flavor is not for everyone, but many who swear by it insist it’s an acquired taste (similar to getting used to apple cider vinegar).
Here are some interesting facts about horseradish that you probably didn’t know:
- Horseradish can actually tarnish silver. So when you are using or preparing it, avoid using any silver flatware or dishes.
- Although horse is in the name, horseradish is actually poisonous to horses.
- A study by MIT has shown that an enzyme in horseradish called horseradish peroxidase can actually clean waste water by removing a variety of pollutants.
- It’s estimated almost 6 million gallons of horseradish are prepared in the U.S. annually.
- Much of the production (planting, growing and harvesting) of horseradish is still done by hand.
Purchasing and Preparing Horseradish Root
Fresh horseradish is available in markets almost year-round, but the best time to buy it is in the spring. You can usually choose from roots ranging from 2–4 inches (although the whole root can be up to 20 inches long). When you choose your root, pick a section that is firm, and has no soft, green or moldy portions. You should also avoid overly dry and shriveled roots, as they are probably not the freshest.
Horseradish also comes prepared, usually preserved in vinegar and salt. There is also prepared horseradish sauces that add a number of additional ingredients, as well as a red variety that uses beet juice. It will likely be sold in a bottle in the refrigerated condiments area of the grocery store. There are also dried varieties of horseradish root that can be used after adding water.
Horseradish storage is similar to ginger; you can keep it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, but it begins to dry up as soon as it is cut. The best time to consume it is within one or two weeks from purchase date. Once you grate it, it’s best to use it within a few days. Freezing is not usually recommended unless the horseradish has already been grated. It can stay frozen for up to six months that way. Similar to other storage, the longer it sits, the less pungent the flavor will be. Prepared horseradish sauce is usually okay refrigerated for up to three months. If you see the horseradish darkening, or other mold, it’s time to discard it.
When preparing homemade horseradish, you can make peeling easier by using a stiff brush to get the dark skin off. If you purchase a larger chunk of horseradish root, there may be a bitter, fibrous core which can be removed. As you chop horseradish, the flavor will be become more intense.
Using a food processor will make the process easiest and give you a nice, thinly grated spread for sandwiches and meats. You can cut the peeled roots down into cubes and use the processor to create the consistency you prefer. But be careful as you open the lid after grinding, as the fumes can be quite intense. Using a fan or opening a window can cut down on the irritation to the nose and eyes.
To create your own prepared horseradish, just add white vinegar and salt to taste as you process the root. You can store it in the fridge up to six weeks in a sealed glass jar.
It’s also very easy to grow your own horseradish plant. They will regrow even from the smallest cut of a root. Horseradish prefers areas that are sunny, and it needs deep soil to grow its roots. Horseradish can be invasive, so it is best to start growing in a container if possible.
Horseradish Root Nutritional Information
Horseradish is typically consumed fresh. It can be grated from a fresh root, or as a prepared condiment.
1 tablespoon horseradish, prepared (daily value): (17)
- 7 calories
- 7.9 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids
- 42.7 milligrams omega-6 fatty acids
- 0.5 gram fiber (2 percent DV)
- 47.1 milligrams sodium (2 percent DV)
- 3.7 milligrams vitamin C (6 percent DV)
- 8.6 micrograms folate (2 percent DV)
Horseradish Concerns and Cautions
Horseradish contains mustard oil, which for some people can be incredibly irritating to the skin, mouth, nose, throat, digestive system and the urinary tract. If using topically, it may be best to start with a preparation of less than 2 percent mustard oil to test for reactions.
Children can be more affected by the intensity of the flavor and smell of horseradish. Therefore, it’s probably best for children to avoid it until they are over 5 years of age.
It’s inconclusive whether mustard oil is safe for pregnant or nursing women, so it is recommended that women in these conditions avoid horseradish.
Those with kidney problems should avoid horseradish as it may increase urine flow.
Those with digestive system issues such as ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, infections or similar illnesses should avoid horseradish as it may irritate conditions and make them worse.
Those with an under-active thyroid gland should also avoid horseradish as it may worsen their condition.