Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Wild Horseradish Sacrifice

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”
~Wendell Berry

Sometimes, you have to break your own rules. Rules, after all, are meant to be guidelines to keep us on th' right path, not chains forged against our own free will. And one of my rules i broke was digging up the only specimen of a sought after plant. Wild Horseradish. There's others growing around town, but this solitary horseradish simply had to go. Why? It's all in th' name of progress you see.

I had this idea a few years ago- pick a spot of nature undisturbed, be it however small, and simply watch it. Observe it's life. Plants, animals, bugs, weather... get to know it. After a while it will become like a friend- there will be things you immediately like, some things you may not like, and things that can only reveal themselves over time. So it was with this horseradish plant. It grew on the edge of an abandoned orchard... th' one i wrote about in th' preserving apples post. I've been watching the orchard for almost ten years now, and i just discovered this little beauty a few years ago. Horseradish likes to grow in colonies, so i'm not sure how this one got here, but one day there it was, with no kin anywhere that i could discern.

But alas, someone has decided, once again, that's it's more important to have concrete and tar and plastic and automobiles here than a bit of wilderness. I wonder how long we can keep this up.

So i got in there and dug up my ole friend th' horse. I knew there was going to be a sacrifice here, and i wanted my killing this plant to be worth something. So we waited till Passover, and i went out and harvested this for th' horseradish bit. It was very special, and we got to share it with our family in a close, intimate setting. As i was riding my bike to th' harvest, i kept thinking of a line in a Wendell Berry book i read many years ago...“To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”

Plum Blossoms

I arrived at th' scene of th' crime, it's early spring and i knew th' leaves would be very small, if they had grown at all. I walked amongst th' dew, th' smell of plum blossoms, musk mustard, dandelion, and apple blossoms. I searched and searched, and then!

Musk Mustard Blossoms

Dandelion, perfect conditions for harvesting leaves

There they were! The old, dead leaves of last years' growth, buried in th' grass. I walked past them a few times, and was about to give them over to progress and head to another patch.

Dead Horseradish leaves
I stooped to examine them more closely- took a moment to consider what i was about to do... found th' young leaves just emerging from th' taproot- i took a bite...gave thanks...

Young Horseradish leaves

Very tasty
When mature, the leaves look very much like dock leaves, only they're usually full of bug holes, where as dock leaves rarely are. Indeed, i think this close resemblance has aided th' survival of this species greatly. I bet you've looked upon it many times and chocked it up to Dock.

I grabbed a fallen plum branch and proceeded to dig. Slowly, all th' way around th' root, careful not to harm it. Deeper. Deeper. Alternating between hands and stick. Th' smell of th' young earth and th' taste of th' fresh leaves in my mouth.

horseradish root

almost there
 Once i had gone about a foot into the earth, a sudden hope sprang upon me, and i snapped th' root off, leaving about four inches of it still in th' ground. Who knows but that it may grow again, between th' cracks in a sidewalk, at the edge of a fence, a house, and a little child may taste th' leaves, dig th' root. A new forager is born.

delicious wild horseradish

I was careful to leave th' place looking exactly like i'd found it. No one will ever know i was here.
(except you of course)
aint nobody been here
 I placed th' root upon the earth, it's home, one last time. To say good-bye.

I wanted to leave a bit of tobacco here as a thank offering- i had no tobacco, so i left a dandelion. A sacred herb in it's own right.

Back home i delivered th' sacrificial lamb up to Beth for processing. She cleaned it. Grated it. Mixed it with a small amount of apple cider vinegar to preserve it's spice, it's essence, it's life.

grated wild horseradish root
She set up th' seder plate, and th' meal was eaten with thanksgiving by all. We will do this again, and i still have hope for that little root.

passover table in waiting
note: Horseradish has been cultivated and eaten by peoples around th' world since time immemorial. We have records of it's use as food and medicine in the earliest of books, records and mythology. This often overlooked plant can be much more than a mere condiment to our lives. Enjoy.



  1. i had an eye burning horseradish grating experience just the other day. tasty. nice post.

    1. yeah, that stuff can hurtcha- we made wild dolmas with your rice, dock leaves, and black walnuts the other day- excellent

  2. A worthwhile sacrifice...sorry to hear your spot will be paved over. The horseradish looks yummy. I'll keep an eye out for it when foraging parts lower.

  3. Love that horseradish. You got an award on my blog. (Not for horseradish).