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Homemade horseradish packs punch

Q: Can I dig my horseradish and make sauce from the roots right now?

— Valeriea from Youngstown

A: Great question. The answer depends on your need for some horseradish sauce now or more come fall.

Usually, it is harvested as 1-to-2-year-old roots. Fall is the best time to harvest — just after the leaves are killed by the frost. This is why there’s the saying, “Harvest it in a month that ends in R.” Fall is when the roots will be the largest after growing all summer.

Horseradish is something we don’t seem to think too much about, but man it can pack a punch. You can make it less powerful in recipes by adding in more of the other ingredients for a sauce. We use this herb fairly often. Who doesn’t love cocktail sauce? It can add so much flavor — if you don’t use so much that the dish is overpowered.

Horseradish is easy to grow from a root. It is a tough and persistent plant — actually it is what I call a garden thug because it can travel throughout your garden. It is a hardy plant that will grow almost anywhere. It prefers sun, but tolerates partial shade; it prefers a moist, well-draining loamy soil, but will tolerate other soils.

The pH of the soil should be near neutral. If the soil is amended clay the roots tend to be a bit gnarled. If the soil is hard,

the roots become gnarled than if grown in softer soil.

You can grow horseradish from dividing the plant roots or taking a root cutting — even one from a root you buy at the grocery store. There are several different strains, the most common being the Czechoslovakian type.

Plant horseradish in spring. If you plan to harvest, plant two or three plants. The plants need a full season before harvesting. It will grow 3 to 4 feet.

Leaves should not be fed to livestock or people. It is safe to put leaves in your compost pile.

The growing horseradish plant develop most of their storage roots in the fall. It is important not to let the soil become too dry in late summer. Over-wintered plants may send up spikes of white flowers. Clip off the flowers before they fully mature, and don’t put these flowers in the compost bin or you will end up with many horseradish plants in the pile.

When harvesting, dig down with a pitchfork on both sides to gently. Gather pieces of roots as you dig. Loosen the soil in the other side before attempting to pull it.

To prepare fresh horseradish for eating, wash and peel a root and cut into small pieces. Puree in a food processor with a bit of water. Add a few pinches of salt or teaspoon of white vinegar. Puree until slightly lumpy. Place in a small jar, add more vinegar to cover horseradish. It will stay fresh in your refrigerator. Use within two weeks.

Beware — handle with care and work with horseradish in a well ventilated area. I had a friend whose husband followed all the steps mentioned above to prepare horseradish. All was well until he opened the top of the food processor. The strong pungent smell overwhelmed and caused him to faint right there in the kitchen.

Read more details about this great herb at http://go.osu.edu/horseradish.

McKinley is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. Call 330-533-5538 to submit your questions to the plant clinic. Live clinic hours are 10 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays. Or visit go.osu.edu/mahoningclinic for details.

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