Radishes are the round or long cylindrical root of the plant. They are know for their crunchy texture and peppery flavour. They contain a moderate amount of vitamin C and are low in calories so are great as a snack.
Vegetable Origins & Varieties
Radish: Raphanus sativus. Cruciferae
The radish is one of our ancient vegetables thought to be native to Asia, yet domesticated in the Mediterranean. Herodotus (the Roman historian) noted that the pyramid labourers received ‘radishes, onions and garlic’ as part of their rations. In the pyramid of Cheops it’s depicted on the walls showing it was cultivated in Egypt 2780BC. By 500BC it was being grown in China then 200 years later in Japan. The Greeks often made copies of vegetables as votive offerings to their gods – interestingly turnips were made of lead, beets of silver but radishes were made of gold - which says something about how much they were valued.
Early writers such as Horace and John Evelyn comment on how radishes “excite the languid stomach”, their fiery flavour is due to the presence of mustard oil. They are also eaten to relieve indigestion and flatulence.
Although we think of radishes as being red there are also black, purple, yellow and green-skinned types.
Growing tips & Harvesting
Radishes are one of the quickest vegetables to grow – you can be eating them between 2 and 3 weeks after sowing.
Radishes are a cool weather crop so sow under shade in summer. They love light, moisture-retentive and free-draining soil which has not been enriched with humus or manure. Rapid growth is essential for tasty, tender roots so keep moist but don’t overwater as this encourages leaf production.
Don’t leave them in the ground longer than 8 to 10 weeks as they will become woody. When harvesting twist the leaves off (as you do for Beetroot) otherwise they bleed.
For summer growing we like French Breakfast and Cherry Belle but for winter we like Chinese Rose and Black Spanish Round.
If you like unusual varieties then try Munchen Bier where you eat the green seedpods and not the root.
Storing & Preparation
Radishes are best kept in the fridge, washers and dried with their tops removed, where they should last up to a week or two. Go for small, blemish free and firm skinned radishes for the best taste. The tops and sprouted seeds are also edible, whilst the roots are usually eaten raw in salad.
My favourite Recipes
Fennel, Lemon and Radish Salad
2 bunches radishes with their leaves
2 shallots sliced
2 fennel bulbs
5 tbsp olive oil
Grate the zest of the lemon and juice. Add the juice to the shallots, meanwhile slice the fennel as finely as possible and mix with the sliced radishes. When you are ready to serve mix all ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
The edible leaves of the radish can be added to (potato) soup, sautéed or blended into fruit juices. The seeds can also be pressed and oil used as a biofuel.