Benefits of Horseradish

The benefits of planting horseradish in the garden, and the German postal service's electric cars.

| June/July 1995

The Secret Life of Horseradish

The rough-and-ready horseradish plant has long been snubbed by prudent farmers and gardeners. The perennial horseradish (Armoracia lapathifolia) grows wildly throughout temperate climates, leading many people to consider it just another pesky weed. In fact, the plant is so tough that great efforts have been made to limit its growth. Only sauce and Bloody Mary lovers hold horseradish relish in admiration for its spicy properties. Yet the plant lives a double life that few may realize.

The minced root has another use: as a decontaminate of industrial waste water, according to a recent study at Pennsylvania State University that has received a $450,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Horseradish can detoxify the harmful water more efficiently than chemical treatments, says Jerzy Dec, a re search associate at Penn State's Center for Bioremediation and Detoxification, and it is "100 percent" cleaned after contact with the plant. The otherwise considerable expense of decontaminating the water also drops, making a horseradish treatment appealing to those concerned with the bottom line as well as the land. It can illustrate to both industry and consumers that a natural alternative to the waste water dilemma can be the best one.

The secret of the plant's strength against all sorts of toxins is the enzyme peroxidase. The plant's rigid tissue stabilizes the enzyme, and traps it for use. Then the active element of the horseradish simply and swiftly cancels out the pollutant's presence in the water.

The application process is also surprisingly simple. The horseradish is harvested in tons; then the root is separated from the rest of the bushy plant and minced thoroughly. The horseradish and a proportionate amount of hydrogen peroxide are then added to the polluted water. In half an hour, the pollutants are neutralized, forming insoluble polymers which can be easily filtered from the water.

Horseradish is most powerful against phenols, a group of chemicals considered a prime pollutant of industrial water. Phenols are produced in most major American industries, such as steel and iron manufacturing, paper bleaching, coal conversion, ore mining, and in the production of dyes, plastics, and pesticides. Horseradish can treat 50 different phenols in various ways, and a few other chemicals to boot.

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