Fresh radishes (Raphanus sativus) from the garden are a welcome spring crop. Their crunchy texture and bright colors are a sure sign that spring is here. It's true that radishes are often found year-round in the produce aisles of the supermarket, however much can be said for growing your own. They are easy to grow from seed to harvest and many varieties are ready after only 30 days or so.

Radishes in history

The origins of this little root vegetable are a bit unclear, although most agree that they probably came from Southeast Asia. There are more wild varieties found there than anywhere else. India is another possibility too. Both cultures have many uses for the radish and both grow a number of varieties that are still eaten today. Sailors were probably the main reason that radishes were spread throughout the world because they discovered that eating radishes helped prevent scurvy. They were easy to store and had a long shelf-life, so were included in many ships larders. Radishes do contain a significant amount of Vitamin C, which does prevent the condition, because scurvy is actually a vitamin deficiency. There's evidence that the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks all enjoyed radishes. In fact the name we know them by in the west comes from them. The Romans called them radix, which means 'root' and the Greeks tagged them with the name, Raphanus, which means 'appearing quickly'. The ancients all ate the roots, leaves and even the seed pods of this biennial plant. Biennial means that it takes two growing seasons for the plant to germinate, grow, flower and set seed. Then it dies.

Health benefits of radishes

The early peoples were actually on to something good when they added radishes to their diets. These little guys are full of nutrition and health benefits. They are low in calories and high in fiber which helps prevent obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Radishes also contain folic acid, zinc and potassium along with Vitamin C. They only contain about 12 calories for a half cup serving (sliced) so make a nice crunchy snack that won't kill your diet. Also, this same half cup of sliced radishes contains 14 percent of your daily Vitamin C needs. Radishes are a cruciferous vegetable, as are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts. These vegetables contain phytonutrients which are anti-inflammatory and are often considered healthy choices for preventing cancer. We should consume several servings of these vegetables a week for numerous benefits. Studies have indicated that cruciferous vegetables like radishes help the body maintain healthy sugar levels, fight the H. pylori bacteria associated with ulcers, aid in reducing hypertension, help arthritis sufferers and there are even indications that they have beneficial effects on Alzheimer's patients and autistic children. There's a lot to be said for adding radishes and their kin to your diet.

Many ways to serve radishes

So, you don't like radishes? There's many different ways to serve them as opposed to slicing them on a salad. I've included them to my sauerkraut for a tasty alternative to simply cabbage and they do well when added to any pickle recipe. Add them for a bit of crunch in chicken or tuna salad, or make a spicy coleslaw with radishes, cabbage, apples and a hot, sweet vinegar dressing. Radishes can be cooked too! We all know how wonderful roasted root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips taste, so why not radishes? Cut in half, toss with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes and they cook up mild and sweet. I've personally done this and the result is very tasty. Check out the image below to see how they look. They taste more like a turnip. Add them to stir frys, or braise them in broth. Don't forget the tops either. They can be cooked like collards or turnip greens, or even added to your collards or turnip greens. Braise the tops in a bit of broth until wilted, season, and run them through your food processor for an interesting pesto for your pasta. Think outside the box, radishes do not have to be eaten fresh, however they are wonderful that way as well.

cooked and fresh radishes in bowl

Growing radishes

Spring is a great time to grow radishes if you live in a cold winter climate. Grow them all winter if you live in a warm winter climate. They make a great cool season crop. As the ground warms and the sun shines, plant radishes in prepared, loamy soil when temperatures reach an average of 60 degrees. They should sprout in 4 or 5 days and grow rapidly. Make sure they have at least 8 hours of sun each day and an inch of water each week. Start harvesting your radishes in about 30 days if the weather remains mild. Remember to use succession planting for your radishes. This means to sow a few seeds every two weeks so that they do not all mature at once. Also remember that radishes come in numerous shapes, sizes and colors. This means that they all have somewhat different flavors, so it is fun to experiment to see which ones your family likes best. Some are sweet, while others have a fiery, hot flavor. Radishes have few pests, flea beetles being the worst. In fact, flea beetles love radish tops so much, that gardeners often plant them among other crops such as eggplants, cabbages and Brussels sprouts to tempt the insects away from those vegetables that take longer to mature. They are one of the easiest vegetables to grow so make a colorful and smart addition to children's gardens where short attention spans and careless care often go hand in hand. Grow some radishes or pick up a few bunches at your local farmer's market this spring for a tasty treat.