Ever thought about growing radishes?
The humble radish is actually not so humble. In fact, it’s a delight in the kitchen and a wonder in your garden. Radish has the honour of being one of the first recorded cultivated vegetables. In China there are records of radishes being grown as early as 700 BCE and these humble little root crops were also favourites of the Egyptian pharaohs. The name “radish” comes from the Latin radix, meaning “a root”. The first portion of their species name, Raphanus, in Greek translates to “quickly appearing”, which you will find is very apt once you start growing these delightful vegetables. In fact, the very rapidity of their growth makes radishes an excellent way to get children involved in gardening, because the rewards for their efforts are almost instantaneous. More than that, however, radishes can be a very versatile friend in your kitchen.
Growing your radish
Radishes might not be nutritional “superfoods”, but they are a good source of vitamin C and make a tasty appetiser or salad ingredient. Additionally, radishes are very easy to cultivate and can be grown in any part of the country if planted at the proper time.
Radish seeds can be planted pretty much all year. Just sow them directly and then thin appropriately as they grow. They will grow in all climatic conditions but prefer a sunny, well-drained spot. So tough are they that they will even tolerate light frosts. In very hot conditions they are prone to bolting to flower and seed. Select season-appropriate varieties and sow small lots every few weeks to ensure a successive harvest. Keep them well-watered to prevent roots splitting and for optimal taste. They will grow well in pots and can be companion planted with lettuce and carrot.
Your radishes will be quick growers and can be ready for harvest in just three weeks. Thinning your crop — to about 3-5cm spacing — is a good way to start your harvest and allows room for the others to grow. Radishes taste better when young and tender and you can also pick the young leaves, flowers and pods for salads.
Your healing radish
Radishes (the root) are rich in ascorbic acid, folic acid and potassium. They are a good source of vitamin B6, riboflavin, magnesium, copper and calcium. Radishes are also low in calories. One cup of sliced radish bulbs provides approximately 20 calories or less, coming largely from carbohydrates, making radishes, relative to their size, a very filling food for their caloric value. The fact that you can fill up on radish without consuming too many calories has led to them being recommended for weight loss programs.
While radish has not been extensively studied in recent times, it does have a traditional reputation as being able to treat liver disorders. It does this primarily by stimulating the flow of bile and because of this action, it also has a reputation as a “detoxifier”. In Europe there has been a long-standing use for radish juice. This is simply the juice that is expressed from fresh, chopped radish and it has been used for centuries to treat cough, arthritis and gall bladder problems. The method of taking it has been to combine the juice in equal parts with honey. There is no hard, clinical evidence that radish will work in this way, but years and years of use suggest there may be something to it.
Radishes in the kitchen
The most popular part for eating is the root, although the entire plant is edible and the tops can be used as a leaf vegetable. The bulb of the radish is usually eaten raw, most often in salads, but tougher specimens can be steamed. The raw flesh has a crisp texture and a pungent, peppery flavour that results from chewing, which combines substances called glucosinolates in the radish with the enzyme myrosinase, which, when brought together, form allyl isothiocyanates, also present in mustard, horseradish and wasabi.
When it comes to eating, if your radish lacks a bit of zing, you can make it crisper by soaking it in ice-water for a couple of hours. If you want to get a bit fancier with your radish, try serving them as an appetiser with unsalted butter, sea salt and pepper. Sliced, they can also go nicely in a salad sandwich. Steamed radishes go well as a side dish or you can braise them with butter and red-wine vinegar for a sublime accompaniment to a poultry dish.
Easy to grow they may be, but humble? The radish has lots to boast about!