ESTER ESSENTIALS - HORSERADISH
Nowadays, during Easter celebrations in Poland we tend to stick to traditions and food mostly connected to them. One of such important flavours of our Easter is the horseradish – we add it to eggs and Żurek ( known also as the White Borscht, traditional sour soup witch can be described as made out of fermented cereals flour). In Old Poland it was even more popular as an addition to various dishes, there was even a saying that can be loosely translated as Horseradish is the best with company. It has always been praised for being beneficial to our health and for its distinctive taste, which made it often used as a replacement for more expensive spices.
The use of horseradish as a remedy for gastric problems can be dated way back. In 1845 Józef Gerald wrote in his Economic and Technical Herbarium that The root of horseradish is used in medicines. The spicy oil that it contains, is responsible for stimulating kidneys and stomach. It also has anti scurvy properties. In his work, the german botanist and apothecary Carl Ludwig Willdenow mentions the benefits of mixing horseradish with alcohol – Mixed with gorzalka (old polish for vodka) and taken as a medicine the root of horseradish is a remedy for stomach ache.
The use of gorzalka and its earlier versions known as okowita ( from latin aqua vitae – the water of life) in this mixture is no accident. Alcohol is known for its ability to macerate – it can isolate different chemical compounds while transferring them to the liquid form thus enhancing their general properties. This process has been used not only to create mixtures with horseradish – it is also known as a base for producing old alchemical recipes and since the XVII century in Poland it has been essential during making of Nalewki – traditional old polish flavoured vodka infusions.
During the XVI century, many botanists wrote about medical uses of horseradish. Marcin from Urzędowo in his “ Polish Herbarium” wrote about the many ways in which the horseradish can improve our health – he points out that the syrup made from it can be used as antiseptic for the respiratory tracts. Stefan Falimirz – the author of the first polish herbarium published in 1534 in Cracow- underlined in his work that horseradish used as an addition to cold dishes such as fish can be very beneficial for the stomach.
Article by Sebastian Gaik tour guide in the Polish Vodka Museum.