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Winter Radishes – Delight to our plates

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No longer having a radish is an unenviable situation, but not having radishes for the winter in the vegetable patch is also a great shame. Radishes are vegetables of great dietary value, and very easy to grow. We are not talking here about the small radishes of every month, with fine pink and white (or red) skin, but about the black radish that some people wrongly call “horseradish” and the Japanese radish or “daikon”, whose long root white can be mistaken for a turnip. Like cabbage, turnips, rapeseed, mustard, watercress, arugula, and some 350 to 380 genera and more than 3,200 species, radishes are part of the old Cruciferous family that we now call the Brassicaceae.

Vegetables from Antiquity

It is likely that the black radish was the first species of the genus Raphanus (a genus which groups together black or pink radishes) to be cultivated for food by the Egyptians of the Pharaonic era, more than 4,500 years ago. Archaeologists have found, in the temple of Karnak, hieroglyphs representing black radishes under the name of “noon”. The latter were, among other things, part of the food of the workers who built the great pyramids of the Giza plateau near Cairo. But we only consumed the seeds in the form of oil at the time.

The name radish comes from the Latin radix, meaning “root”. The Romans, who cultivated mainly the maritime ravenelle ( Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. Landra ) undoubtedly contributed to the first selections. They associated radishes with Apollo, the god of Arts and Light, and used it to calm coughs and stop bleeding. We owe them the spread of black radishes in Western and Northern Europe.

Black radish makes you forget the excesses

Sometimes improperly called “horseradish” ─ which is, in fact, a completely different plant: Armoracia rusticana for botanists noir, black radish or winter radish, can be recognized by its dark, edible but very pungent skin. Its “root”, 20 to 30 cm long, with a tonic flavor, is harvested at the start of winter to be eaten as a salad, or used as a condiment.

The varieties most appreciated by consumers are: ‘Gros Long d’Hiver de Paris’, ‘Long Maraîcher’, ‘Long Clock Weight’, ‘Rond d’Hiver’ and ‘Violet de Gournay’ (whose skin is pink purplish and less pungent flavor).

Fresh black radish juice is renowned for its purifying action on the liver and gallbladder. It is good to drink half a glass before a festive meal and to make you forget the feasts by absorbing the same dose twice a day for a week. 

To combat coughing, black radish syrup is prepared by cutting the root into slices arranged in a salad bowl in thin layers, each covered with powdered sugar. After 24 hours of maceration, it is enough to filter the liquid obtained and to take a tablespoon 3 to 4 times a day. Effective, but not famous!  

And the daikon, this giant radish from Japan?

Characterized by its long, fusiform root with white skin, daikon is one of the basic ingredients of Japanese cuisine. The “roots” which can be 1 m long and weigh 15 kg have a sweet and refreshing flavor. Very juicy, daikon is often eaten in a hurry. In small gardens, cultivate the varieties  ‘Ilka’ and ‘Okhura’, with round roots, or ‘Omry F1’, whose rapid development roots do not exceed 15 cm. Note that the leaves can be cooked in soups or used fresh as a condiment.

“Growing radishes by firing on them has never produced good results” (Chinese proverb)

To succeed in winter radishes, all you need is deep soil (digging well before sowing), slightly calcareous, light and free of its pebbles (to obtain beautiful, straight roots).

Sow the seeds in place from June to August, 2 to 3 cm deep. The seed is quite fine, mix it with sand for a more homogeneous distribution. A good week after emergence ─ which occurs in 5 to 7 days -, clarify by leaving between each seedling the width of 4 fingers (10 cm).

Keep the soil constantly moist without soaking, by mulching the soil well. This is the secret of a tender and not very spicy radish… Because the flavor of the radishes is all the stronger since they lacked water!

Between sowing and the first harvest of winter radishes, count 80 days; protected by a good cover of dead leaves, the plants can be left in the ground until spring and harvested as needed.

Since winter radishes are fairly greedy plants, do not grow them on the same site for 4 years. Follow their culture with salads, then tomatoes and green beans. Never grow cabbage on the same plot before 3 years.

Botanical quarrels and false names

If, on the scientific level, many authors still distinguish the black radish from the daikon by giving the first the name Raphanus sativus var. niger and in the second Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus (or sometimes R. s. var. acanthiformis), the international botanical nomenclature has brought these two plants together under the name: Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. sativus, i.e. the edible form of wild or ravenelle radish. All edible radishes are now considered by official authorities as different races of the same subspecies . Of course, some scientists dispute this position, preferring earlier names.

Although it is still in the “  root vegetable ” category, it is not exactly the root of the radish we eat. It is actually the hypocotyle, the part of stem located just under the cotyledons (embryonic leaves) and which hypertrophies to form a reserve organ. The root and its rootlets are located at the lower end of this hypocotyle.

Let’s celebrate the radish!

In Mexico, in Oaxaca, December 23 is the occasion to celebrate the radish. It is the Noche de Rábanos (Night of radishes).
April 8, the 19th day of the month of Germinal in the French republican calendar, is officially called radish day.

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