Horseradish – Armoracia Rusticana: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Sting Nose of Wild Plants

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Horseradish is a nonnative edible and medicinal plant that has escaped into the wild here in Ontario. It’s known for causing your nose to sting when you eat it.

Horseradish (armoracia rusticana syn. cochlearia armoracia, armoracia lapathifolia, and rorippa armoracia), originally called sea radish, is a long way from home in Ontario. It was brought here as a perennial vegetable. The huge leaves resemble dock. The clusters of delicate white flowers are an unexpected surprise in late spring to early summer. Passing by, you might think it’s a wildflower. But the smell, if you scratch the root, is a pungent horseradish of course.

Horseradish (armoracia rusticana)
Horseradish (armoracia rusticana)

Edible Uses of Horseradish

The roots are grated to make a hodgepodge of horseradish based condiments and sauces. It’s mixed with vinegar, mayonnaise, salad dressing, sour cream, lemon juice, or tomato puree (e.g. cocktail sauce); or combos thereof. The creamy whitish “prepared horseradish” you’re most likely to find in stores here is the grated root mixed with vinegar. As it gets too old it darkens and looses its punch. Its condiment roots herald from Germany.

The young leaves are also edible raw or cooked and have a slighter horseradish taste.

With the wasabi plant (wasabia japonica) becoming rare, its cousin horseradish is being substituted.

High in sulphur.

Medicinal Uses of Horseradish

Horseradish is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Lymphatic
  • Respiratory
  • Urinary

Medicinal tags include Antiseptic, Carminative, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Expectorant, and Stimulant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes.. traditionally for “dropsy”, which is edema/fluid retention. For this it’s sometimes combined with juniper berries. Flu and urinary tract infections come up often too.

But “fire cider” is what first comes to my mind. Fire cider is a herbalist staple in cold and flu season. Not long ago, someone tried to trademark the phrase. Luckily, the many and well known herbalists who’ve been using the term for years won the case to save the name for public domain. Here is a standard recipe:

Fire Cider (based off Rosemary Gladstar’s recipe)

  • ½ cup grated fresh horseradish root
  • ½ cup + fresh chopped onions
  • ¼ cup + chopped garlic
  • ¼ cup + grated ginger
  • Fresh or dried cayenne pepper
  • Plus any optional ingredients (there are 100s of fire cider recipes out there!)

Harvest the root in autumn. You can keep it fresh in the fridge for months or pack it in damp sand for root cellar storage.

To make fire cider, place all ingredients in a clean glass canning jar and cover the mixture with apple cider vinegar by at least a few inches. Seal tightly. Place your jar in a warm spot for 3-4 weeks, shaking it every day (AKA “maceration”). After about a month, strain out the herbs. The liquid is your fire cider, which you can sweeten with warmed honey. Rebottle your cider in clean glass bottes or jars. It will keep for a few months in a cool panty, and much longer in the fridge. I take shots or TBSPs full if I feel a cold coming on or if I’m feeling stuffed up. This nose stinging recipe can also help with persistent coughs after a virus, allergies, sinusitis and other respiratory issues.

When crushed with water it makes a mustard oil that has been used same as mustard plasters for the likes of rheumatism and to loosen mucous in the chest. But beware plasters or poultices with mustard oil can burn skin, and quickly – be sure to really learn how to use them if you wish to.

It also can help with a lack of appetite, promoting stomach secretions.

Alternative Uses of Sting Nose

The enzyme horseradish peroxidase (HRP) is used in some lab work.

Horseradish (armoracia rusticana)
Horseradish in flower (armoracia rusticana)

Growing Armoracia Rusticana

If you want to grow it for a vegetable, it’s as easy as cutting up the horseradish root from the grocery store to plant. It’s larger and more flowery than most of its mustard relatives. Small insects will visit the flowers.


Avoid consuming in large amounts, especially if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Avoid if you have low thyroid function.

Toxic to livestock.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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A Modern Herbal (Volume 1, A-H): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses

The Good Living Guide to Natural and Herbal Remedies: Simple Salves, Teas, Tinctures, and More

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

The Green Pharmacy: The Ultimate Compendium Of Natural Remedies From The World’s Foremost Authority On Healing Herbs

The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Forager’s Calendar: A Seasonal Guide to Nature’s Wild Harvests

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

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