Home Remedies: Horseradish

I’m not a doctor, but I play one at home.  The following is not medical advice, but my own experience.  Consult your doctor with serious medical issues.

That said, I employ a variety of home remedies that have been pretty effective for me and my family for various non-serious maladies.  In a lot of cases, I believe doing this has led to less frequent doctor visits–certainly for me.  But then, I’m willing to use myself as a guinea pig.

One of the remedies I grew up with was using horseradish to clear out minor sinus problems accompanying colds and flu and hay fever. You’d take a spoonful (as much as you could stand) and stomp your foot as the vapors burned through the mucus in your head. (The stomping wasn’t necessary for the “cure,” I don’t think.)

My mom bought pre-prepared horseradish, which at that time seemed pretty effective and HOT (that’s the medicinal part–the same chemical component as in mustard oil).  But I haven’t found a commercially-prepared horseradish that is what I would call medicinal-grade in a long time.

A lot of the commercial brands have artifical additives and soybean oil–something I can’t understand at all (horseradish should taste like horseradish–nothing else) and wouldn’t use as a home rememdy if I was sick.  Of course I wouldn’t use the creamy horseradish sauces, either.

Good horseradish is made with nothing but fine-grated horseradish root, vinegar, and usually a little salt, and it’s really easy to make at home if you can get your hands on a section of horseradish root.  Of course, the best way to get your hands on some horseradish root is to grow it yourself, and it’s very easy to grow.

In fact, my only failed attempt at growing horseradish was due to (as a friend explained to me) not being mean enough to the root as I planted it.  I was told it might help to beat the thing against a fence post and swear at it a few times, then stick it in the ground.

I didn’t do that, but I did dig the patch deep and added some manure and sand so the roots would have fertile and loose soil to grow deep and straight.  And boy, did they.  I’m glad I planted it where I can occasionally dig out the patch and mow the leaves–it can be very invasive, and it’s hard to get all of it out.

It’s so vigorous and invasive, I won’t put any part of the root in my compost pile–any little nubbin I have left from preparing grated horseradish goes in the trash.  But, as I said, it’s easy to grow, and it’s handy to have on hand for medicinal and condiment use.

If you live in the northern tier, ask around and see if someone will give you a section of root.  You can also order the roots from many seed companies, but if your neighbors who already have it find out, they’ll laugh at you for paying money for it.

In order to preserve the heat of fresh horseradish, I’ve found the best preparation method is to use a fine grater, only do a little at a time (this also helps to preserve the preparer’s sanity–the fumes can be intense!), and grate the root directly into a bowl that has a little puddle of cider vinegar in it.

If you grate fresh horseradish coarsely (like in a food processor), it won’t be as hot.  It will taste good (freshly-prepped horseradish is sweet as well as hot), but it won’t have the “oomph” you’re going for if you need a good sinus-clearing.

I stop every few moments to scrape the gratings off the back of the grater and to mix the shavings into the vinegar.  Once I have a little mound, I scrape all of the gratings into a little jar with a tight-fitting lid and add a smidgeon of salt.

The volatile compounds that make horseradish hot dissipate fast–get a lid on it as soon as possible.  Once you have your grated, prepared root, you can take a spoonful every few hours to help clear out your sinuses.  A word of warning–try a SMALL spoonful at first–don’t hurt yourself!

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