I love this time of year. The air is cool, the earth is damp, and there are still a few edibles in the garden. Early fall means that it is time to harvest one of my favorite vegetables. Yes, it is horseradish season!
Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana) is a perennial that is in the Brassicaceae family. This is the same family that includes cabbage, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, and mustard. Since it is a perennial, you do not have to replant it every year like cabbage. Simply leave a few horseradish roots in the ground after each harvest and you will be blessed with horseradish for years to come. Please note that this plant is hardy in USDA zones 3 – 9.
This particular vegetable is grown specifically for its very pungent root. As the season progresses, it develops more flavor. My mom who raised horseradish and whose parents raised horseradish always said, “You only harvest horseradish in a month that has an ‘r’ in it”. For her, that meant waiting until early fall with October and November being the primary months of harvest.
To test this out, I harvested some roots in May from a crop that I planted two years prior. After washing and peeling the root, there was a faint aroma, but not the harsh note that I was expecting. I grated the root and added it to some sour cream (a favorite way of enjoying it). I tried it on a baked potato and the flavor was so mild, the horseradish was barely detectable. To continue with testing, I harvested in the summer and resulting condiment had a more pronounced flavor.
But if you truly love the full depth of what horseradish can be, wait until it is no longer actively growing (which means fall) and you have already had a frost. This year, October was my harvest month.
If you are worried about harvesting before a frost, don’t. Horseradish can survive temperatures to -20F. But with a fall harvest, your main concern should be harvesting before the ground freezes. If you wait too long and the ground does freeze, you can simply wait to harvest the following year in early spring before the plant begins to actively grow (think February through April).
To harvest horseradish, make sure the soil is slightly damp (not wet) around the roots. It will make harvesting easier compared to digging in a dry, hard packed soil. Use a digging fork (just like what you would use to harvest potatoes) and start digging about 12″ away from the plant. At this point you are loosening the soil and trying to determine which way the primary roots have grown. For the record, it is not always straight down. Continue to loosen the soil with the digging fork until you are able to get the fork under a large root. Gently lift the fork, trying to prevent the root from breaking in half. This is not always avoidable, but try to get as much of the root as possible.
After collecting the roots, wash them off. The easiest method I have found is to rinse them off with a garden hose. Once the roots are clean, pat them dry with a cloth.
Now you can either store them for later use or peel them to use now. If you choose to store them, place damp (not wet) sand in a large, plastic container with a lid. Bury the roots individually with a layer of sand between them. After that, cover the container with the lid and store in a cool location like a crawl space or basement. Horseradish stored this way will last for several months.
You can also store unpeeled horseradish by wrapping them in paper towels and them placing them in a perforated plastic bag (like the ones grapes come in at the grocery store or you can simply poke holes in a regular plastic bag). Once in the bag, you can store them in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for at least a month according to Oregon State University.
Harvesting horseradish is quite simple. Treat it like a potato using a digging fork and be sure to harvest late in the season, waiting until you have at least had a first frost. Clean and store the horseradish and you will be able to enjoy it for months to come!
kathy & deb says
We loved horseradish in my family too. The only bad thing was that my dad used to tease us girls by saying, “eating horseradish will put hair on your chest!” Even that didn’t stop us; we loved the fire out of our nostrils feeling it gave us.
I think that horseradish was my dad’s favorite condiment. That deep, earthy, pungency is like no other. I always like mixing it in with sauces or dairy products like sour cream or even an unsweetened whipped cream.
Marie Angelique says
Wow, I’ve never seen horseradish that is not in a jar (I know…I’m such a city girl!) but my boyfriend loves it! Thanks for the tips!
Horseradish is very easy to grow. It is one of those plants that once you plant it, you will always have it. We love the flavor of horseradish. It will always have a place at our table.
Peggy Ashcroft says
Thanks so much for the information…we inherited a massive clump on an allotment we have taken over and now I know what to do with it! First frost will be soon so I look forward to harvesting it.
Good luck and enjoy your horseradish!
I found this through the ‘Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways’ blog hop! Great post on horseradish! Thanks for the information, I look forward to using this information for my first harvest of horseradish (which is hopefully next year). Thanks again!
I hope you enjoy your horseradish, nothing beats raising your own.
Thanks so much for the info! I’m hoping to try to grow my own horseradish starting next year. I’m a new homesteader and started to late this year to even have a garden. I love horseradish!
You are welcome! Horseradish is quite easy to grow. As long as we leave a few roots at the end of harvest, we will have horseradish for the following year. I just love things that I only have to plant once. Enjoy.
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Kim O says
I have found that when I clean the dirt and small roots off of the main root if I use a brand new stainless steel scrubbing sponge to do the job. Not only do the roots and dirt come off, but it removes the outer layer of the root leaving a perfect white horseradish root to start with.
That is an excellent tip. It would definitely make quick work of cleaning the horseradish root.
I hope you are still monitoring this article, which was very well written. I was glad to see you write on how to store the roots for later use, now I can grind it up fresh whenever I want it! My question is do you need to keep the sand damp or just keep the lid on?
I get the best results when I store in damp sand.
I have horseradish in the lawn. A couple of “dead leaves” that must have had a little bit of root attached were left in a spot that was turned to lawn. The leaves get cut with the mower with the lawn. How would you go about harvesting this particular patch ?
I would start by digging a hole that is at least 6″ wider that the patch. If you find that you still have horseradish coming up, but don’t want to dig in your lawn, keep cutting the leaves back and the patch will eventually die.
If horseradish is refrigerated will it get spicy hot or is it if you leave it laying in the sun it will make it hot to eat
It is the length of time that the horseradish is growing that impacts the amount of heat it has to offer. My grandma used to say that you harvest when there is a month with an ‘r’ in it…meaning late summer/early fall. I have harvested earlier in the season to try it, and there was not much flavor at all, let alone any heat. Since I prefer the ‘bite’ of horseradish, I usually do not harvest until October.