, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 156-164

Historical notes on horseradish

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Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana Gaertn., Mey. & Scherb.) is a hardy perennial of the Cruciferae. The plant is thought to be indigenous to temperate eastern Europe and probably has been in cultivation for less than 2,000 years. The ancient writers, Dioscorides of Greece and Pliny of Rome, listed horseradish underThlaspi orPersicon; the early Renaissance herbalists, as Mattioli and Gerard, underRaphanus; Linnaeus under the genusCochlearia; today’s taxonomists under the genusArmoracia. The English word horseradish apparently comes from the German wordmeerettich or ‘sea-radish’;meer (sea) was probably taken by the English to meanmähre, an old horse. At least two distinct leaftypes of horseradish were known in the 16th Century, and these are present in cultivars grown today. Horseradish may be an interspecific hybrid. Various workers have reported sterility, partial pairing of chromosomes, different chromosome counts in different specimens, and embryo abortion. Viable seed, however, can be produced. Most of the commercial production in the United States is located in the Mississippi River Valley around St. Louis and on muck land near Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The roots were employed for medicine by ancient and medieval people as a preventative or cure for many ills; but today it is used mainly as a condiment on meats and seafoods.