It’s March! spring time finally…which means one thing to a lot of people: allergy season.
Eating local honey is often touted as one way to build immunity to local allergens , but another way to soothe your sore throat is to eat some fresh radishes.
Fun fact #1: the natural spice found in radishes (especially Black Spanish radishes) helps eliminate excess mucus, making it a very handy vegetable in this spring season.
– Gary Wills comments on Jefferson’s appreciation for radishes in
Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
I haven’t lived in Virginia long, but it has become clear to me that almost everything, especially in Charlottesville, can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson. And believe me, radishes are no exception. As we all know, Jefferson had numerous political accomplishments. What you might not have known was that Jefferson was an avid and devoted farmer, holding over 10,000 acres of which he grew a variety of crops, including radishes. Between 1766 and 1824 Jefferson kept a Garden Book to record his observations of rainfall, temperature, soil conditions, plant life cycles, and season patterns. Peter Hatch, the director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello explains that Jefferson recorded the world around him in order to uncover the truth.
The “truth” is not only the truth of the “equal station of all peoples, but also the truth of our inalienable dependence on soil, rainfall, radishes, hemlock trees, and temperate climate.”
Fun Fact #2: Radishes are part of the mustard or cabbage family
(the same family as kale, February’s Harvest of the Month)
Radishes keep you hydrated and cool. Did you know, radishes’ pungent flavor and high water content is regarded for its ability to decrease excess heat in the body that can build up during the warmer months. 1 cup of sliced radishes = 20 calories. The radish also contains high percentages of vitamin C, phosphorous, and zinc along with natural cleaning effects (helps prevent viral infections) and eliminates cancer-causing free radicals in the body.
The wild form of the modern radish comes from Southeast Asia, while other forms were developed in India, central China and central Asia. The radish was also one of the first European crops to be introduced to the Americas, reaching Massachusetts by 1629.
Fun Fact #3: Radishes are related to wasabi, a type of horseradish, which is a staple condiment of Japanese cuisine.
Perfect for children gardens!
Fun Fact #4 The scientific name for the genus of radish is Raphanus, greek for “quickly appearing”.
Radishes are fast growing, annual, cool-season crops, which has made it a popular choice for children’s gardens. Radishes are also useful companion plants as well as a trap crop for their pungent odor can lure pests away from the main crop .
Virginia heritage connection:
Radishes were cooked in Jefferson’s days in a similar fashion to parsnips, beets and turnips. see the excerpt below from the 1842 Virginia Housewife cookbook, by Mary Randolph,
“Radishes, are not so much used as they deserve to be; they are dressed in the same way as parsnips, only neither scraped nor cut till after they are boiled; they will take from an hour and a half to three hours in boiling, according to their size; to be sent to the table with salt, fish, boiled beef, &c. When young, small and juicy, it is a very good variety, an excellent garnish, and easily converted into a very cheap and pleasant pickle.” 
Sold on radishes? Great!
Now here’s how to be a smart shopper of these tasty treats:
What to look for: choose those that are plump, firm, smooth, and free of cracks and blemishes. If you are planning on serving them as raw, buy them with the leaves still attached, they should be bright green and fresh.
How to store: perforated plastic bag in the crisper. Radishes purchased with tops removed can be kept up to a week, radishes with leaves on should be used within a day or so because the greens don’t stay fresh very long.
The Food Heritage Project thanks you for taking the time to read about the history and heritage of radishes and asks you to consider eating fresh radishes this month!
This post was written by Abigail Sandberg
1. L. K. James and S. R. Durham, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, volume 38, Issue 7, pages 1074–1088, Published 8 July 2008
2. Larry J. Held, James W. Jennings, David W. Koch and Fred A. Gray, Trap Crop Radish: A Sustainable Alternative for Nematicide in Sugar Beets, Presented at Western Agriculture Economics Association Annual Meeting, July 11-14, 1999, Fargo ND
3. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, Published by E.H. Butler & Co., 1860, Philadelphia. page 102.