A perennial plant, horseradish is related to mustard, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables. The plant is probably native to southeastern Europe and western Asia. Horseradish can grow up to 1.5 meters tall and is cultivated primarily for its large, white, tapered root.
When intact, the root has little aroma. Once scraped or broken, it exudes a penetrating smell and is apt to irritate the nostrils, making the eyes water even more than onions do. The taste is very strong, very hot and sharp. Horseradish is best used raw and grated. Cooking the horseradish root will only cause the flavor to disappear.
Horseradish has long been valued for its medicinal properties and is still popular with natural therapists to help relieve respiratory congestion. Whether fighting the flu and respiratory disorders or combating tonsillitis and urinary tract infections, horseradish is a condiment that can help keep you healthy. For many centuries it was used to treat a wide variety of ailments. Nearly every part of the horseradish plant seems to have some medicinal value. Perhaps the most interesting health benefit of horseradish emerging from recent studies is of its anti-cancer effects.
Horseradish is at its best in fall and winter. Like so many other root vegetables, however, it stores well and is often available well into spring.