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Horseradish

Botanical name: Cochlearia armoracia

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

Horseradish likely originated in Eastern Europe, but today it is cultivated worldwide. The root is used as both food and medicine.

Horseradish has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Bronchitis

Common cold/sore throat

Sinusitis

Urinary tract infection

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Horseradish, known for its pungent taste, has been used as a medicine and condiment for centuries in Europe. Its name is derived from the common practice of naming a food according to its similarity with another food (horseradish was considered a rough substitute for radishes).

Horseradish was utilized both internally and externally by European herbalists. Applied to the skin, it causes reddening and was used on arthritic joints or irritated nerves. Internally, it was considered to be a diuretic and was used by herbalists to treat kidney stones or edema. It was also recommended as a digestive stimulant and to treat worms, coughs, and sore throats.1

Active constituents

Horseradish contains volatile oils that are similar to those found in mustard. These include glucosinolates (mustard oil glycosides), gluconasturtiin, and sinigrin, which yield allyl isothiocynate when broken down in the stomach. In test tubes, the volatile oils in horseradish have shown antibiotic properties, which may account for its effectiveness in treating throat and upper respiratory tract infections.2 At levels attainable in human urine after taking the volatile oil of horseradish, the oil has been shown to kill bacteria that can cause urinary tract infections3 and one early trial found that horseradish extract may be a useful treatment for people with urinary tract infections.4 Further studies are still necessary, however, to confirm horseradish’s safety and effectiveness in treating urinary tract infections.

How much is usually taken?

The German Commission E monograph suggests an average daily intake of 4 teaspoons (20 grams) of the fresh root for adults.5 Alternatively, 1/2–1 teaspoon (3–5 grams) of the freshly grated root can be eaten three times per day. Horseradish tincture is also available and is sometimes taken at 1/2–3/4 teaspoon (2–3 ml) three times daily. The German Commission E also recommends external use of horseradish for respiratory tract congestion as well as minor muscle aches. A poultice can be prepared by grating the fresh root and spreading it on a linen cloth or thin gauze. This is then applied against the skin once or twice per day until a burning sensation is experienced.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

If used in amounts higher than recommended, horseradish can cause stomach upset,6 vomiting, or excessive sweating. Direct application to the skin or eyes may cause irritation and burning. Horseradish should be avoided by people with hypothyroidism, gastritis, peptic ulcer disease, and kidney disorders. Horseradish should not be used by women during pregnancy or breast-feeding or by children under four years of age.7

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with horseradish.

References:

1. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal, vol 2. New York: Dover Publications, 1971, 417–9.

2. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum, 1988, 207.

3. Kienholz VM, Kemkes B. The anti-bacterial action of ethereal oils obtained from horse radish root (Cochlearia armoracia L.). Arzneim Forsch 1961;10:917–8 [in German].

4. Schindler VE, Zipp H, Marth I. Comparative clinical investigations of an enzyme glycoside mixture obtained from horse radish roots (Cochlearia armoracia L). Arzneim Forsch 1961;10:919–21 [in German].

5. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 150.

6. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 150.

7. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 150.

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