If you do a Google search on "Black Radish", you'll get all kinds of results having to do with nutritional supplements and vitamins. That's because the black radish (Raphanus sativus L. var. niger) has long been believed to possess various medicinal qualities, none of which I can attest to. However, the various claims to its healing properties are impressive:

  • Black Radish Root creates a tonic effect on the respiratory system; Egyptian workers apparently used Black Radish as a remedy for cough during the construction of the pyramids.
  • Eating black radishes supposedly activates the liver cells, and is a powerful natural liver detoxifier.
  • Radishes, especially black ones, contain a unique phytochemical called MIBITC that is even stronger than the much-lauded anti-cancer compound sulforaphane, which is found in broccoli.
  • Many claims also say that, in addition to its cleansing qualities, black radishes are rich in vitamin C, the B vitamins and sulfur.
  • The radish root can also be crushed and used as a poultice for burns, bruises and smelly feet

As I said, I can't confirm any of the above health claims, as I just pulled up my first couple of black radishes the other day. After taking a couple of bites from my harvest, however, I can most definitely attest to this veggie's sinus-clearing qualities. They are hot.

Ok, we've gotten the scientific stuff out of the way. Let's move on to the fun part: growing black radishes.

Southern gardeners may wish to do what I did and choose the ‘Nero Tondo' variety from Johnny Seeds. This cultivar is described as being resistant to bolting, a common problem when warm spring temperatures send plants into overdrive. But there are other types too, including:

'Tokinaski' - A very easy and versatile variety to grow, it can be sown at any time from the spring until late summer

'Black Spanish Round' - A fairly large round root with a black skin and a crisp white flesh with a hot flavor. It is very winter hardy and can be left in the ground to be harvested as required.

'Black Spanish Long' - A fairly large cylindrical root with a black skin and a crisp white flesh with a hot flavor. It is very winter hardy and can be left in the ground to be harvested as required.

Like other radishes, the black ones are a cinch to grow. The soil should be what is normally desirable for a root crop: fairly rich (but not too rich, or you'll get all top and no radish) and quite loose to ensure good root development. Germination of the seeds is notoriously high, so you made need to do some thinning once sprouting has occurred. After that, just sit back and watch them grow.

Because black radishes are "winter" radishes, they are a little slower to reach maturity that their lightning-fast, smaller spring counterparts. However, they still make good companion crops for just about any other veggie you decide to grow, as their pungency is believed to repel pests. Winter radishes are also considered to be good "keepers" in that they store well.

As for eating, well...use your imagination. According to several online recipes, black radishes work very well peeled, chopped into matchstick-sized pieces and cooked in stir fry dishes. They can also be thinly sliced, baked and eaten as "chips" or grated and mixed with sour cream and lemon juice as a salad/side dish.

One thing is for sure: once you've bitten into this unique and darkly mysterious member of the radish world, you won't soon forget it.

(This article was originally published on September 13, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions or comments.)