The chemicals in raw horseradish have been known to act as a natural antibiotic. Getting to know this healing spice and its medicinal applications can be beneficial to your health.
Raw horseradish has no odor, but cut into its flesh and you’ll sniff a waft of heat that can open the sinuses even on the worst day of allergy season. No wonder it was used as a medicine long before it was used as a food.
Photo by Fotolia/Alla Bondaruk
Breakthrough scientific research is finding that spices — even more than herbs, fruits and vegetables — are loaded with health-enhancing compounds. Healing Spices (Sterling Publishing, 2011), by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD, with Debora Yost, explains how to use spices to support a healthy lifestyle. This A-Z guide profiles spices that are shown to have preventative or healing potential for common health conditions. The following excerpt covers the research and benefits of raw horseradish and the chemical make-up that allows it to act as a natural antibiotic.
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Potent Infection Fighter
Horseradish is to spices what apples are to pies — very American. An estimated 85 percent of the world’s horseradish is grown here and a lot of it stays here: Americans consume six million gallons of horseradish a year!
But horseradish isn’t an American original. Native to the Mediterranean, by the 15th century it was growing in Britain, where it was described as hoarse, meaning “of coarse and strong quality.”
Raw horseradish has no odor, but cut into its flesh and you’ll sniff a waft of heat that can open the sinuses even on the worst day of allergy season. No wonder it was used as a medicine long before it was used as a food. Ye Olde physicians employed its mucous-moving abilities to help treat colds, coughs, kidney stones, urinary tract infections — and hoarseness, of course.
What gives horseradish its healing kick? The volatile oil sinigrin, which breaks down into allyl isothiocyanate, a powerful natural antibiotic. Allyl isothiocyanate most likely accounts for the proven effectiveness of horseradish in treating upper respiratory problems. But it’s not the only healing component in the spice. Ounce for ounce, horseradish contains more medicinally active compounds than most other spices. And they are very active — they can clear congestion, thin mucous, reduce inflammation, squelch cell-damaging oxidants, fight bacteria and viruses, relax muscles, stimulate the immune system — and even battle cancer. That makes the humble horseradish one special spice. As noted botanist and spice expert Dr. James A. Duke put it, “Horseradish is about as useful in the medicine chest as it is in the spice rack.”
Even though horseradish is loaded with healing phytonutrients, only a few scientific studies have been conducted to test its curative powers. However, the spice has been declared medically safe and effective for upper respiratory tract infections by the German Commission E Monographs, which helps guide physicians and other health professionals in Germany in the medical use of herbs.
One of that country’s most popular infection-fighting natural medicines is a preparation called Angocin Anti-Infekt N, which contains horseradish root and the herb nasturtium. Since the preparation hit the German market, several laboratory and human studies have found that it is as effective as antibiotics in treating:
• Ear infection
• Gastrointestinal illness caused by food contaminated with the E. coli bacteria
• Gastrointestinal illness caused by food contaminated by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus
• Haemophilus influenza, which typically strikes children under age five
• Strep throat and other serious illness caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, such as cellulitis, impetigo, and scarlet fever
• Urinary tract infection
One of those studies, involving 858 children and teenagers in 65 German treatment centers, compared the effectiveness of Angocin Anti-Infekt N to an antibiotic in the treatment of bronchitis and urinary tract infection (UTI). Effectiveness was measured by the degree of symptom relief and the speed at which infections cleared up — and the horseradish-containing medication was very effective! “The results prove that there is a rational basis for treatment of both UTIs and respiratory infections with this medicinal product,” commented the researchers.
Another German study compared the effectiveness of the horseradish preparation to antibiotics in 536 people with sinusitis, 634 people with bronchitis, and 479 people with UTI. Again, the natural medicine worked just as well as the antibiotic.
The horseradish medication also has been shown to help prevent infection. In one study, researchers recruited 219 women and men ages 18 to 75 to test the effectiveness of the natural medicine in preventing recurrent UTI. All the patients were symptom-free at the beginning of the study. Half the participants took a daily dose of the horseradish-containing supplement and half took a placebo. After three months, the researchers found that the rate of recurrence was 50 percent lower in the people taking the horseradish remedy than in those taking the placebo. Another study involving children with recurrent urinary tract infections had similar results.
On the outside, horseradish isn’t much to look at. It is a coarse, colorless, odorless, gangly root with no taste-appeal whatsoever — the ugly duckling of an attractive family of colorful vegetables called the crucifers. These crucifers (broccoli, watercress, mustard greens, kale, cabbage, and brussels sprouts, to name a few) are well known for producing the plant kingdom’s largest supply of isothiocyanates (ITCs), compounds that have been found to protect against cancer.
But ITCs wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for another important compound: glucosinolates. When the flesh of a crucifer is broken — when it is torn, cut, or chewed — glucosinolates get into gear and produce ITCs. That’s why horseradish stands out as more than just a homely spice in a family of lovely greens. When researchers at the University of Illinois put horseradish under the microscope, they found it contained more glucosinolates than broccoli, the king of all crucifers.
“Horseradish contains more than 10-fold higher glucosinolates than broccoli, so you don’t need much horseradish to benefit,” commented Dr. Mosbah Kushad, the study’s lead researcher. “In fact, a little dab on your steak will go a long way to providing the same health benefits as broccoli.” (Good news for you broccoli-haters out there!)
In one study on the ITCs in horseradish, researchers at Michigan State University tested their ability to inhibit the activity of colon and lung cancer cells. As the dosage of ITCs increased, the disease-promoting activity of the cancer cells became weaker — 30 to 68 percent weaker for colon cancer, and 30 to 71 percent weaker for lung cells.
ITCs aren’t the only cancer-fighting compound in horseradish — the spice contains more than two dozen anti-cancer compounds, and researchers in England are investigating one of them — horseradish peroxidase (HRP) — as a component in an anti-cancer medication. In one laboratory study, the experimental drug helped control the growth of breast and bladder cancer cells.
• Cholesterol problems (high total cholesterol)
• Ear infection
• Food poisoning
• Pneumonia, bacterial
• Strep throat
• Urinary tract infection
Reprinted with permission from Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease, by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD with Debora Yost and published by Sterling Publishing, 2011. Buy this book from our store: Healing Spices.