Legend has it that the Egyptians used horseradish dating as far back as 1,500 B.C., and we do know that Jews frequently use it as one of the five “bitter herbs” needed for their Passover celebrations.
Because of the heat generated from it when it was grated and the root cells were crushed, many people throughout history thought it had major medicinal uses. The fact that it affected the sinuses so much probably led some to believe it would even cure the common cold. As a matter of fact, some people used it in cough medicine, some as a pain reliever, and others even thought it could cure tuberculosis.
The Greeks were thought to have used it as a pain relieving topical ointment, which probably made sense because of the smell – like how “Icy Hot” and menthol rubs are used! Mythology also tells us that Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi told him that, “The Radish is worth its weight in lead, the beet its weight in silver, the horseradish its weight in gold.” That’s how valuable the white root was for them medicinally! Some even claimed it has an effect as an aphrodisiac!
The horseradish plant is believed to have originated in central to southeastern Europe and western Asia. Some of the European cultures that used it as both a medicine and a condiment on meats during medieval times are believed to be Germany, Scandinavia, Russia and England.
Where Did the Name “Horseradish” Come From?
This 3,000-year-old plant was originally called, “Meerrettich,” by the Germans, which means “sea radish,” because it grew close to the sea. The “meer” part of it was probably mispronounced by the English as “mare,” like a horse – hence, “horse radish.”
Yet, there are some differing explanations elsewhere as to the root vegetable name’s origin. The English word “horse” refers to “coarse” or “rough,” and “radish” from the Latin term for the word for “root.”
It is also believed that the very first written reference to horseradish was way back in 1597, when botanist John Gerarde wrote the Generall Historie of Plantes, which was an academic publication that also came to be known as Herbal. This book was a huge illustrated volume of notes from the botanical scientist, with almost 1,500 pages. It was considered the most widely circulated book about plants in English in the 17th Century.
Where is the Horseradish Capital of the World?
Despite horseradish being introduced to the United States well after it inhabited Europe and Asia, three different American cities have laid claim to being the horseradish capital of the world!
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Tulelake, California, have both been referenced to be the horseradish capitals of the world, but the city of Collinsville, Illinois, seems to have taken it to a new level.
Every summer, the small city in Southern Illinois, about 10 miles northeast of St. Louis, holds the International Horseradish Festival, complete with cooking competitions, a 5K race and even a Little Miss Horseradish Pageant!
While the history of horseradish is still full of plenty of mysteries, we think we’ve helped clarify some of the facts about the pungent root’s background!