June Journeys

The man who wants a garden fair,

    Or small or very big,

With flowers growing here and there,

    Must bend his back and dig.

The things are mighty few on earth

    That wishes can attain.

Whate'er we want of any worth

    We've got to work to gain.

It matters not what goal you seek,

    Its secret here reposes:

You've got to dig from week to week

    To get Results or Roses.

Edgar A. Guest

This poem is particularly apt at this time of year for me - it seems as all my time is spent in the garden. Weeding, digging, planting, more weeding, mulching, watering, and even more weeding. But I expect that the end result will be worth it - at least that thought is what keeps me going.

Much of what I'm doing now will not produce an immediate result. The tomatoes, peppers and eggplants have been set out, the ornamental plants which I dry and use for arrangements and wreaths, the annual herbs that are seeded or set in - none of this will bear fruit until later in the summer. Right now, everything looks so little and yet the promise of a lush display is the motivation I need to keep on working through some incredibly hot and humid days. Thank goodness there are many perennial plants, mostly herbs, that come up each year whether I do anything to them or not. Chief among these is horseradish, the International Herb Association's Herb of the Year (TM) for 2011.
Horseradish
Many are surprised at the choice of this humble plant for such exalted status as Herb of the Year. However, this long-lived perennial, a prolific grower that enjoys full sun and well-drained soil, has been grown and used for over 2000 years. It was known to Egyptians as far back as 1500 BC. The Oracle at Delphi claimed that horseradish was worth its weight in gold. It's botanical name, Armoracia rusticana, refers to the fact that it grows naturally near the sea. It is believed to have originated in Eastern Europe, and many cultures from that area have a l;ong assoication with the plant.

The first mention of this plant as "horseradish" was in Gerard's Herbal in 1597. It's use was medicinal,  as were so many plants at the time. It was purported to be useful for many ailments, such as sore throats and digestive uspets. It was also beneficial as a pesticide, to ease back pain, repel evil in the home and even as an aphrodisiac. Jewish people used it as one of the five bitter herbs at Passover, and that has carried down to the present day. The gnarly root can often be found at grocery stores in the spring, and in my family, it was an accompaniment to Easter dinner. The freshly ground root was far superior to the bottled kind, though as a child, it was not something I welcomed on my plate. Todasy, we use the ground root as a condiment,  adding it to bloody marys, cocktail sauce, etc. Over six million gallons are produced each year in this country. One of the components of horseradish, the enzyme peroxidase (HRP) has been found to be a useful tool in detecting antibodies in molecular biology. Research is being conducted on horseradish's many compounds as a possible cancer preventative.

To grow horseradish, it is a simple process. A small piece of root is all that is needed to produce a plant. In fact, many consider horseradish to be invasive, but it is usually well-behaved and does not spread that much.  Once you have a plant, chances are that you will always have some. Last year, I harvested an old root that had been growing for years. This spring, I already have plants in the same place, so I obviously did not get every piece of roots.

The occasional flowers are a tasty additon to salads, but the root is the part we wait to harvest - usually after a killing frost in the fall. To prepare the root for use, remember that the fumes are extremely potent, so be sure to have a fan blowing or grind your root outside. A blender or food processor is the best way to deal with grinding the tough root into a paste, adding a small amount of water to obtain a smooth product. Some add vinegar, which helps preserve it and helps to mellow the horseradish, as well. Keep your jar in the refrigerator, and keep it tightly closed to preserve the taste and "heat". I often add a tablespoon or two to my mashed potatoes (along with a little milk and butter), giving a nice kick to this side dish.

For more information on horseradish, go to wwwherbsociety.org or to order a copy of IHA's Herb of the Year (TM) - Horesradish - go to www.iherb.org.

Jumping in June,

Karen