This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.
With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.
The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies.
Our team includes licensed nutritionists and dietitians, certified health education specialists, as well as certified strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.
The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.
Horseradish Root Helps Prevent Respiratory Illness, UTIs & Cancer
August 14, 2019
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 to your diet. Well, meet horseradish root, a vegetable that’s loaded with antioxidants and important nutrients, earning it a well-deserved spot as your new go-to topping.
Are there any health benefits to horseradish? And is horseradish good for you?
Emerging research has unearthed a number of powerful benefits associated with this incredible ingredient, reporting that it could protect against bacterial infections, promote healthy digestion, reduce inflammation and more.
So is horseradish good for blood pressure? Is it good for your liver, and are there any other health benefits found in this cruciferous veggie?
Here’s what you need to know to start adding this tasty ingredient to your daily diet.
What Is Horseradish Root?
Horseradish is a root vegetable that is most commonly used as a spice. Known mostly for its strong flavor, it becomes a popular topping for meat and fish when prepared.
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 cruciferous vegetables, which are known for their plant compounds called glucosinolates.
It’s also rich in antioxidants and a variety of enzymes, including horseradish peroxidase. Because of the presence of these compounds, it may prevent bacterial growth, fight off illness and disease with antioxidants, and provide a healthy mix of vitamins and minerals to help supplement a balanced diet.
Although it originally hails from southeastern Europe, this popular root vegetable is now found worldwide. In the Middle Ages, both the horseradish leaves and roots were used as a medicine.
It’s a known as a natural diuretic, a treatment for respiratory illnesses and even urinary tract infections.
It has a pungent flavor similar to wasabi root (rhizome), which is also known as Japanese horseradish. Both belong to the same family of plants, and wasabi paste is often even used as a horseradish substitute.
Apart from the obvious distinctions in color and appearance, there are several other unique differences between wasabi vs. horseradish as well.
Most notable, wasabi tends to have a richer, more complex flavor. It’s also much more difficult to find fresh and harder to grow and cultivate.
Related: Nasturtium: The Medicinal Herb With an Antioxidant-Rich, Flavorful Kick
Horseradish is typically consumed fresh. It can be grated from a fresh root or as a prepared condiment.
It’s also found in a number of recipes with horseradish, ranging from horseradish mashed potatoes to horseradish cheese, horseradish mayo and horseradish aioli.
This flavorful ingredient is low in calories but contains a good amount of vitamin C and folate. One tablespoon (about 15 grams) of prepared horseradish contains approximately:
- 7.2 calories
- 1.7 grams carbohydrates
- 0.2 grams protein
- 0.1 grams fat
- 0.5 grams dietary fiber
- 3.7 milligrams vitamin C (6 percent DV)
- 8.6 micrograms folate (2 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients above, each serving also contains a small amount of calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese, vitamin B6 and selenium.
Related: Is Spicy Food Good For You? Benefits + Healthiest Spicy Foods
1. Contains Cancer-Fighting Properties
Glucosinolate compounds found in this root vegetable are responsible for its spicy flavor and are powerful in the fight against cancer. In the plant world, glucosinolates protect plants from toxic or harsh environments.
Impressively enough, horseradish contains 10 times more glucosinolates than broccoli, so even in small amounts you get a lot of benefits.
Numerous studies, including one from the University of Illinois, have shown examples of this root veggie helping make the human body more resistant to cancer. Research provides preliminary evidence that it may help invoke cell death in human breast and colon cancer cells, as well as prevent oxidative damage linked to free radicals.
As more research surfaces, the possibilities for using glucosinolates as chemopreventive agents continue to expand. 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 OK.
2. Rich in Antioxidants
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 contains a number of phytocompounds, which are antioxidants that are beneficial to human health.
Some of the antioxidants found in the root are antimutagenic. This means they protect parts of the body from mutagens that can cause permanent harm.
There is evidence that mutations are to blame for heart disease and several other common degenerative disorders. Interestingly enough, one in vitro study showed that horseradish extract was able to decrease DNA damage cause by zeocin, an antibiotic known to induce oxidative stress.
3. Protects Against Microbes and Bacteria
The oil responsible for the pungent taste of horseradish, wasabi and mustard is called allyl isothiocyanate, or mustard oil. This colorless oil is a known antimicrobial against a wide spectrum of pathogens.
Many studies have demonstrated the profound antimicrobial and antibacterial capabilities of horseradish root.
There was a study conducted 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 to prevent spoilage.
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 it enhanced the antimicrobial functions of phagocytes to help to fight off infection and illness.
4. Reduces Symptoms of Respiratory Illness
Because of the antibiotic properties of horseradish, 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 containing the 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.
With the many adverse effects associated with antibiotic treatments, these findings are very exciting. They also bolster the idea that more research is necessary to reduce antibiotic use and find natural cures for common illnesses.
The reality is that many antibiotics used to treat respiratory illness often aggravate the underlying cause and only suppress symptoms of the illness.
The pungent smell of this cruciferous vegetable also helps expel mucus from the upper respiratory system to prevent infection. When taking this root vegetable for sinus problems, it may feel like you are producing excess mucus, but this can actually be beneficial.
After a day or two, your body will start to rid itself of waste, which is a major step in preventing infection.
5. Helps Treat Urinary Tract Infections
Thanks to the ability of horseradish root to fight off microbes and bacterial growth, 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. The glycoside sinigrin, which is also found in the root, is known to prevent water retention and act as a natural diuretic, which can help to prevent kidney and urinary tract infections.
The presence of allyl isothiocyanate, which is expelled via the urine and has proven anti-bladder cancer capabilities, may also aid in the infection-fighting properties of this root veggie.
6. Acts as a Digestive Aid
Horseradish contains enzymes that stimulate digestion, regulate bowel movements and reduce constipation. Bile helps rid the body of excess cholesterol, fats and other wastes, as well as support a healthy digestive system.
This root veggie is considered a cholagogue, which is a substance that stimulates the production of bile in the gallbladder to aid in digestion.
It also provides a small amount of fiber, which is very important for promoting digestive health and regularity. In fact, some research suggests that upping your intake of dietary fiber can protect against conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), diverticulitis and stomach ulcers.
7. Relieves Inflammation and Pain
Horseradish was used by people in Ancient Greece as a natural pain reliever to help alleviate back pain. It’s also been used in other types of traditional medicine to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with headaches.
Although more research is needed, horseradish is often applied topically for areas of the body with pain caused by injury, arthritis or inflammation. This may be due to the anti-inflammatory properties found within the many beneficial compounds it contains.
8. Supports Weight Loss
Low in calories but high in fiber, this flavorful condiment makes a great addition to your fridge if you’re looking to lose weight. Unlike other high-calorie or sugar-laden condiments like barbecue sauce, ketchup or salad dressings, horseradish can add a zip of flavor to your favorite foods without the guilt.
It also contains mustard oil, a powerful compound that may help boost weight loss.
A study published in Journal of Food Science and Technology showed that administering diacylglycerol-rich mustard oil to rats reduced body weight and levels of leptin. Leptin is a hormone that promotes satiety to help regulate body weight.
However, maintaining consistently high levels of leptin can contribute to leptin resistance, reducing your body’s ability to produce and use this important hormone effectively.
Related: Mustard Greens Nutrition, Health Benefits & Recipes
Purchasing and Preparing
There are plenty of options for where to buy horseradish, and fresh horseradish is available in markets almost all year-round. However, the best time to buy it is in the spring.
You can usually choose from roots ranging from two to four 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.
You can also find it prepared already.
What is meant by prepared horseradish?
This is a type of condiment, which is usually preserved in vinegar and salt. There is also prepared horseradish sauce available that can add a number of additional ingredients, as well as a red variety that uses beet juice.
It’s likely 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.
Can you eat raw horseradish root?
Although it’s most commonly consumed as a condiment, you can also consume this incredibly versatile ingredient raw, pickled or cooked.
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 root 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 OK refrigerated for up to three months.
How do you know if horseradish root is bad?
If you see it darkening or growing mold, it’s definitely 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 it, the flavor will become more intense.
Using a food processor makes the process easiest and gives 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.
How to Make Your Own (Plus Recipes)
There are tons of options and recipes out there for how to make horseradish sauce, but making horseradish generally involves ingredients like Dijon mustard, sour cream, mayonnaise, chives and prepared horseradish. To create your own prepared version, just add white vinegar and salt to taste as you process the root.
How long does horseradish root last? And does horseradish go bad?
Typically, you can store this ingredient in the fridge up to six weeks in a sealed glass jar. Canning horseradish is another option to help extend the shelf life.
While you can easily find this powerful ingredient fresh at the supermarket, it’s also very easy to grow your own horseradish plant.
How do you grow horseradish roots?
There are plenty of resources available for how to grow horseradish from store-bought roots, and this plant can easily regrow even from the smallest cut of a root. The plant prefers areas that are sunny, and it needs deep soil to grow its roots.
However, it can be very invasive, so growing horseradish in containers is your best bet to keep it from spreading too much.
Wondering when to harvest horseradish or what is the best time of year to dig up horseradish? Because the cool soil enhances the pungent flavor of the roots, harvesting horseradish in late fall, winter or early spring to really maximize the horseradish taste is best.
There are tons of different ways to add this tasty condiment to your diet. Here are a few delicious horseradish recipe ideas to help get you started:
- Double Hot Horseradish Mustard
- Sweet Horseradish Pickles
- Honey Mustard Dressing
- Yogurt Horseradish Sauce Recipe
- Chive Horseradish Keto Cauliflower Mash
Risks and Side Effects
Can horseradish hurt you? Or can horseradish kill you in extreme cases?
Despite the many potential horseradish health benefits, there are some adverse effects to consider as well.
So what are the side effects of horseradish?
This root vegetable contains mustard oil, which for some people can be incredibly irritating to the skin, mouth, nose, throat, digestive system and 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.
A common question is “why does horseradish hurt my brain?” This may be because it contains an organosulfur compound called allyl isothiocyanate, which can travel into the nasal cavity and cause a nerve response that may feel like tingling.
Children can be more affected by the intensity of the flavor and smell. 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 consuming this condiment ingredient. Those with kidney problems should avoid it as well since it may increase urine flow.
People with digestive system issues, such as ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, infections or similar illnesses, should avoid eating it too, as it may irritate conditions and make them worse.
Those with an underactive thyroid gland should also not consume this root veggie, as it may worsen the condition.
- Horseradish is a type of cruciferous vegetable with a pungent flavor that has been linked to a number of powerful benefits.
- Each serving is low in calories but provides a good amount of vitamin C, folate and fiber, as well as several antioxidants.
- What are the benefits of horseradish root? Some studies suggest that this root vegetable could contain cancer-fighting properties and may help promote digestion, reduce inflammation and treat urinary tract infections.
- Other potential health benefits include reduced microbial growth and decreased respiratory symptoms.
- There are several options available for how to prepare horseradish and many recipes that you can add it to to start including it in your diet.
- However, it may be irritating to some people and may not be recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding — as well as those with kidney issues, digestive disorders or thyroid problems.