Skull Gang Foraging Club: Horses, Horses, Horseradish
We found horseradish by the horses. I’m not sure if this is common, or just a coincidence. Apparently the name horseradish is a derivative of the Latin word for coarse (so really coarse-radish). This may relate to the coarse, rough-edged leaves, its propensity for growing amongst tough, stony wasteland, or the bite of its intensely peppery flavour. Whatever the case, we found it beside horses. I can’t write or say the word horses without Patti Smith invading my mind.
Horses, horses, horses…
Horseradish is surprisingly common around London. It is often found in abandoned and derelict ground. The rootstock is deep, and can cover a large area in a relatively short period of time. The whole plant can regenerate off a broken section of root left behind in the dirt. As such, a horseradish colony can be returned to again and again if treated correctly.
At first horseradish can be hard to distinguish from dock weed. Both come up in spear like leaves during spring, and can be found in the same soils. Dock weed leaves have a smoother edge than horseradish, and grow in clumps from a central point. Horseradish grows straight up from its root system, the leaves coming up separately over a larger area. Dock weed is also nearly always found growing in close proximity to stinging nettles (and can be used as a home remedy to their stings). The best, and easiest, way to distinguish between the two is to simply crush and smell the leaves. Horseradish leaves will have that distinctive, familiar peppery aroma.
You will probably need a shovel to get this shit out. The roots go deep. They are gnarled and twisted, making a simple pull impossible. You can gather horseradish pretty much all year round, but spring is best because the plant has stored up its energy over the winter. This gives it a bit of an extra kick. If you find a large colony during autumn it pays to mark out the spot before it dies off, and dig during the winter months. Dig about a half-foot around the root, and carefully expose the woody tuber-like section just below the leaves. You may have to cut or break a section to get it out.
Cleaning horseradish is a chore in itself. The skin of the root is thick and gnarled. To remove it you will have to cut it into manageable sections, then peel with a sharp knife. The potent smell will be blinding during this part of the process. We washed and peeled the root under water, which helped a little. The next stage is to grate the horseradish as fine as possible. The fine side of a standard kitchen grater is fine. To store, place this in a jar with a tiny bit of vinegar and keep in the fridge.
To make it into a sauce, just add a dash of crème fraîche, sour cream, or even yoghurt, and a little bit of mustard, then blend well. The longer horseradish is stored, the less potent it will be, so try to make just as much as you need.