Horseradish and Slavery

flowering horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)

flowering horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)

If you’re Jewish, you really should plant horseradish – in the ground or in a pot – near your front door.
Jews are obligated to continually remember the bitterness of their bondage in ancient Egypt. What better way to do so than to see the unmistakable leaves of the acrid horseradish every time you enter and leave the house? Horseradish is one of the plants used for “maror,” bitter herbs that are consumed on Passover to make the suffering of slavery palpable.
If you’re not Jewish, you should plant horseradish anyway because it is nice to have around for sandwiches, salads and sauces.
Last spring, just before Passover, I planted some horseradish. Horseradish rhizomes – edible, bulbous stems that grow underground – are available in the supermarket produce department throughout the year.
Plant the large rhizome horizontally, just below the soil surface. Within days, you will see leaves – some of which may already be growing from the rhizome upon purchase – begin to push up through the soil. The first leaves will be lanceolate or spear-shaped, without much interest. As these leaves turn yellow and die, however, they will be replaced with ornate, deeply lobed leaves that can grow up to 2 feet long and 6 inches wide. Horseradish grows well in full sun or partial shade.
Since last spring, the horseradish in my entry planter has developed considerably. Clumps of leaves are now coming out of the ground in three places. Each time leaves start to grow from a new place, they appear as ordinary spears, to be replaced later on with the more decorative blades.
Horseradish (Armoracia sp.) is a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). It is grouped with cabbage, kale, turnip, radish, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, collard, mustard and brussels sprout as one of the cole crops. “Cole” means stem and refers to the fact that the flowers of these botanically related crops are born directly on the main stem of the plant.
Fall is the season of the cole crops. Plant any of them from seed at this time of the year. Two pests are especially troublesome: imported cabbageworm (whose adult stage is that familiar white butterfly with a single black beauty mark on each wing) and aphids.
To prevent insect pests from bothering vegetables, grow them under floating row covers. A floating row cover is made from finely porous, muslin-like plastic. Placed over low hoops and secured on either side with boards, bricks or stones, a floating row cover keeps insects out while allowing water and sunlight in.
The rise of St. John’s wort
There is so much in the news about St. John’s wort lately you would swear that Huxley’s “Brave New World” vision of universal happiness, made possible by mind-altering drugs, is practically a reality. St. John’s wort is a plant whose yellow flowers and leaves contain chemicals that, in reputable clinical trials, have reduced depression in thousands of individuals. In many parts of Europe, St. John’s wort is prescribed for depression more often than any other drug.
There are 300 species of St. John’s wort, which is the common name for all plants of the genus Hypericum. The one that is used to combat depression is Hypericum perforatum, a species native to Europe which, in this country, may be found growing wild from the central California Coast north to British Columbia, as well as in northern Nevada, Idaho and Montana.
The most commonly seen St. John’s wort in our area is Hypericum calycinum, a ground cover which grows easily enough in the shade or morning sun. It requires more water than the average ground cover and, even when its leaves are lush, flowers sparingly in our arid climate.
Tip of the week: Fall is the time of the year to plant strawberries (from offsets produced at the ends of runners) in Southern California. This gives roots plenty of time to settle in before fruit bearing begins in the spring.

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