Cochlearia armoracia. Horseradish.
Nat. Ord. — Brassicaceae. Sex. Syst. — Tetradynamia Siliculosa.
Description. — Horseradish root is perennial, thick, tapering, white, long, acrid, and very tenacious of life, sending up numerous very large leaves, from the midst of which a round or angular, smooth, erect branching stem rises, two or three feet in hight ; those branches which flower are corymbose, smooth, angular. The radical leaves are near a foot long, half as wide, oblong, crenate-toothed, waved, sometimes pinnatifid, of a dark-green color, and stand upon long, channeled petioles; the cauline leaves are smaller, lanceolate, dentate or incised, sessile, sometimes entire, and without footstalks ; the lower ones often pinnatifid. The flowers are numerous, small, white, peduncled, and in terminal corymbose racemes. The calyx spreading with four ovate, concave, and deciduous sepals. The corolla consists of four obovate, unguiculate petals, twice as long as the sepals. The stamens are as long as the calyx, incurved, and supporting heart-shaped anthers. The ovary is oblong, with a short style, bearing a short capitate stigma, and changing into an elliptical, compressed, bilocular pod or silicle, containing about four seeds in each cell, many of which are abortive.
History. — This is a well-known succulent plant, a native of Europe, and extensively cultivated for the use of its roots as a condiment. Its flowers appear in June. The fresh root is the officinal part and should be dug up in the autumn, as its acrimony is then the strongest; it may be preserved for some time fresh, by burying it in a cool place in sand. The root is whitish externally, very white within, fleshy, fibrous, of a strong, pungent odor when bruised or scraped, exciting violent sneezing and secretion of tears, and of an exceedingly pungent, somewhat sweetish taste. Water, alcohol, or vinegar extracts its properties, which depend upon the presence of a volatile oil, and which is dissipated by heat or desiccation.
The oil may be obtained by distillation with water, but not with alcohol ; it is colorless or pale yellow, heavier than water, very volatile, excessively pungent, acrid, and corrosive, exciting inflammation and even vesication when applied to the skin. It is supposed to be perfectly identical with the volatile oil of mustard, and is obtained in minute proportion, six parts only of the oil being procured from ten thousand of the root. It is believed not to exist already-formed in the unbroken root, but to be developed by the mutual reaction of its constituents when the root is bruised. The dried root possesses no pungency, and yields no volatile oil when distilled with water, unless white mustard be added ; the myrosine of the mustard supplying some necessary principle destroyed by desiccation. In addition, the root contains a bitter resin, sugar, gum, starch, extractive, albumen, acetic acid, acetate and sulphate of lime, water and lignin.
Properties and Uses. — Stimulant, diuretic, antiscorbutic, and rubefacient. It excites the stomach when swallowed, and promotes the secretions, especially that of urine. The infusion is emetic. It has been used with advantage in chronic affections attended with debility of the digestive organs, and of the system in general, as in paralysis, rheumatism, dropsy, and as an antiscorbutic in scurvy. In dropsy, an infusion of the root in cider and drank as warm as could be borne, in large quantities and freely, the patient being warmly covered up, has caused copious diuresis and diaphoresis, and cured the disease in a few weeks; the operation being repeated nightly, or as the strength of the patient would permit. It enters into the following excellent preparation, which has often cured dropsy alone, but the use of which is generally preceded by active hydragogues ; — Take of Parsley roots and tops, Carbonate of Iron, of each four ounces ; Juniper berries, Squills, White Mustard seed, Mandrake, Queen of the meadow root, of each, one ounce, Horseradish two ounces ; good Cider, not new or too hard, six quarts. Place the whole in an unglazed earthen vessel, cover, and digest with heat for twenty-four hours. Dose, a wineglassful three or four times a day. The grated root with sugar to form a syrup with water, is excellent for hoarseness, a spoonful or two may be swallowed as occasion requires. It has been also used externally, as a rubefacient. Dose of the root grated, from one to two drachms.
The Cochlearia Officinalis, or scurvy grass is seldom used in medicine ; it possesses similar properties.
Off. Prep. — Infusum Armoraciae.