Today I came across an old document from December of 1899 from the Division of Botany at the United States Department of Agriculture. The document is entitled, Horse Radish Culture in Bohemia and I am sharing it with you because Czechs absolutely love their horseradish!
Horse-radish is employed much more extensively by German and Austrian than by American cooks, with the result that the cultivation of the plant has received in those countries more attention than with us. On the other hand the fact that the markets there afford an adequate supply, of good quality, has doubtless tended to encourage consumption of this acceptable condiment and to increase the variety of culinary uses to which it is put, it being employed not alone in the raw state, but as a prominent ingredient of boiled dressings for beef and mutton dishes.
The variety of horse-radish known in Germany and Austria as the “Maliner” or “Maliner Kren” is considered superior to any other.
Fig. 1.— Roots of the Maliner Bohemian horse-radish.
It is grown to perfection in Kuttenberg aka Kutná Hora, a small village southwest of Kolin in Bohemia, whence large quantities are exported.
It is distinguished by its unusually sharp penetrating taste, uniform shape, and excellent keeping qualities. The author is indebted to Mr. H. Schmidt, of the Agricultural College in Leitmeritz, Bohemia, for kindly furnishing him with brief notes on the culture of this variety of horse-radish, as practiced at Kuttenberg.
A deep, loose, strong soil with plenty of moisture is best suited to the culture of horse-radish. In the autumn the soil is forked over to a depth of 2 or 2 1/2 feet, and well-rotted barnyard manure is thoroughly worked in to the depth of a foot or more. A narrow bed, 3 feet wide, is prepared, and in late March or early April the horse-radish cuttings are planted along both edges, alternating so that they are not opposite each other across the bed. The cuttings are 12 inches long and are set out 18 inches apart.
Fig 2— Diagram of horse-radish bed.
Instead of being placed vertically in the ground, they are planted in an obliquely horizontal position, with the upper, larger end covered by only three-quarters to 1 inch of earth, while the lower lies 3 or 4 inches deep. As a consequence of this slanting position, the new roots thrown out from the lower end of the cutting, striking vertically downward, make almost a right angle with the main stem, and it is these slender roots from which the new cuttings for the next season’s planting are made.
In connection with the distribution of roots of the Maliner horse-radish it has seemed desirable to publish in full Mr. Fairchild’s account of the method of growing this plant in Bohemia. The amount of hand labor required will doubtless prevent market growers in the United States from adopting this method in detail, but valuable suggestions may be derived from it. Those wishing information about the American methods of horse-radish culture, in which hand labor is reduced to a minimum, should consult Circular No. 15 of this Division. — Frederick V. Coville, Botanist.
During the summer the ground is kept free from weeds and the surface of the soil lightly stirred. Toward the end of June the bed is gone over carefully and each cutting uncovered separately and slightly raised out of the soil with the hand. Care is taken not to injure the perpendicular roots which have formed from its lower end.
All small rootlets are rubbed off from the body of the root with a woolen cloth, those that are too large to be removed in this manner being cut close with a sharp knife. A small quantity of powdered charcoal is scattered over the cut surfaces to prevent decay. The cutting is again covered with earth as before.
In order to keep the new roots of a uniform diameter, and to prevent their striking deep into the soil and becoming too slender, the beds are sometimes underlaid with a porous cement pavement, a foot and a half below the surface of the ground. This pavement checks the growth of the young roots and causes them to thicken.
The roots are allowed to continue growth until the end of September, at which time the harvest begins. The cuttings which have been two seasons in the ground, the first as vertical roots and the second in the oblique position, are by this time large enough for market.
In digging the horse-radish, a long-bladed mattock or spade is used which enables the digger to remove not only the obliquely planted cutting, which is the marketable product, but also the new roots from its lower end, of which the cuttings for the next year are to be made.
The roots are sent to market in neat bundles of several dozen. The uniformity in length and diameter is remarkable, the average thickness being about 2 1/2 inches at the large end and 1 1/2 inches at the other.
Restaurants keep their supplies of horse-radish quite fresh for several months by planting the roots in cool cellars in moist sand, and the cuttings held over for the spring planting are kept in the same way.
There is every reason to suppose that the Mariner Kren variety of horse-radish can be cultivated as successfully in America as in Bohemia, if the hand labor entailed by the removal of the small roots from the cuttings is not too great. But even should this additional expenditure of care prove unprofitable the selection to which this variety has been subjected will probably render it superior even under the methods now practiced by growers in America.
Whether the variety, when introduced, will retain its superior qualities can be determined only by experiment. A quantity of cuttings has, therefore, been imported for distribution to the State Experiment Stations, and to special growers who are already familiar with the culture of horse-radish and are willing to take the pains necessary for a careful experiment.
David Gr. Fairchild, Agricultural Explorer.
Approved by James Wilson, Secretary of Agriculture.
Washington, D. C, December IS, 1899.
Czechs have always used horseradish (křen) in their foods and for good reason.
Since the 17th century, a place called Malín near the town of Kutná Hora has been the best known for growing this crop; its local production elaborated to become well known as the “horseradish from Malín” (Malínský křen) which was referenced above in the document from the Division of Botany at the United States Department of Agriculture.
In fact, we now know that horseradish has been cultivated since antiquity. 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.
In fact, horseradish has 10 times more glucosinolates than broccoli, so even in small amounts, you’re getting a lot of benefits and glucosinolate compounds are powerful in the fight against cancer.
Horseradish has antibiotic properties, therefore it has been used for many years in traditional medicine to treat the common cold, cough, flu, bronchitis, and sinusitis. Horseradish’s pungent smell also helps to expel mucus from the upper respiratory system to help prevent infection. When taking horseradish for a cold or sinus problems, you 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.
In a German study, 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.
The oil responsible for the pungent taste of horseradish (as well as mustard and wasabi) is called allyl isothiocyanate. This colorless oil is a well known and documented antimicrobial against a wide spectrum of pathogens. There have been numerous studies showing the profound antimicrobial and antibacterial capabilities of horseradish root.
Horseradish also contains enzymes which regulate bowel movements, stimulate digestion, and reduce constipation. Horseradish is considered a cholagogue, which is a substance that stimulates the creation of bile in the gallbladder. Bile helps to rid the body of excess cholesterol, fats and other wastes, as well as generally support healthy digestive systems.
Horseradish root also has a number of phytocompounds, which are antioxidants and also beneficial to human health by preventing the free radicals which can do major damage to the body.
The glycoside sinigrin found in horseradish is known to prevent water retention. It is a successful diuretic which can help prevent kidney and urinary infections and is very successful in treating acute urinary tract infections. This is much better than taking conventional antibiotic treatments, which usually come with numerous unpleasant side effects.
There are numerous recommendations in traditional medicine to use horseradish topically for areas of the body with pain caused by injury, arthritis or inflammation.
Horseradish has a long history in folk medicine and can help prevent and treat a number of common ailments. The people in Ancient Greece used it to alleviate back pain. According to Greek mythology, the Delphic Oracle told Apollo that the horseradish was worth its weight in gold. In the Middle Ages, the plant and leaves were used as medicine.
It was introduced to North America during European colonialization and both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson mention horseradish in garden accounts. In the United States, it was much used in the south to help with headaches.
The area around Malín, Kutná Hora has an annual festival appropriately called the Malín Horseradish Fest to celebrate the delicious and important horseradish.
All around, this incredible and tasty food is not only good, it is good for you and Czechs have been using for good reason…
I think tomorrow I will share an old Bohemian horseradish relish recipe and in some days after that, a horseradish soup, so stay tuned.
Until then, we recommend you read our post on Czechs and Their Billion Dollar Beets.
Czechs, were truly a beet root and horseradish power at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Beetroot and horseradish, both very typical, traditional, tasty and healthy Czech seasonal crops, are still widely used in Czech cuisine. Moreover, horseradish with its strong aroma and flavor is a suitable partner of the beetroot, and this combination of the two maintains an irreplaceable part in Czech cuisine.
You can add horseradish to mayonnaise and serve as a dipping sauce for fish or steak. Use horseradish mayonnaise to make deviled eggs. Add to braised chicken or meat dishes. Crust your rib roast or silver tip roast with horseradish and roast in oven. Mix horseradish into ketchup or barbecue sauce for an added kick. Add it to chicken soup for even more immune boosting healing. Grate a bit and mix into your coleslaw an salads.