One of the first roots to come out of the garden is the bold radish – and the timing couldn’t be better considering radishes’ ability to clear out gunk – and I mean gunk literally.

A little radish history

The radish has been around for a long time. The root appears in every continent and every culture, being used in religious ceremonies or as commodity. The pharaohs would feed them to slaves, along with beer soup. That had to quite the combination – ick. Many of us are familiar with the dainty red or white globe radishes that are so common in American gardens and grocery stores, however, there are upwards of a hundred varieties of  radishes. They vary in size from small walnut size to huge. The Sakurajima radish of Japan can grow up to 60 lbs – no, there is no typo there – 60 lbs!  Some varieties in India grow up to 3 1/2 feet long.  Radishes are hardy and easy to grow, the smaller varieties are available within a few weeks, while the larger varieties ripen for the autumn harvest. They can be round and plump or tangled, twisted and long.  They can be white, red or a rich black color.  Whatever their differences, the members of the radish family fall into the pungent category of the 5 Flavors. These pungents and  they offer marvelous nutritional and healing properties and vary in flavor from mild and sweet to hot.

Western nutritional highlights of radishes

Radishes are a member of the brassicaceae (cruciferous) family. They are high in sulfur compounds that aid in the digestive process by regulating the gall bladder and increasing bile production and flow. High in folic acid and potassium, radishes are excellent for pregnant women, especially, as their pungent nature cuts heavy phlegm which is often a problem in pregnancy.

Eastern nutritional energetics and healing properties of radishes

Cooling to hot in nature – radishes run the spectrum – Radish is a pungent, as such its nature runs on a spectrum like the onion family. The milder radishes have a slightly cooling to neutral temperature to the very hot radishes like wasabi. The beauty of this spectrum means that radishes can treat anyone with a phlegm situation. Hot phlegm, characterized by thick yellow or green sticky mucus and a sensation of heat will benefit from the milder radishes like Daikon. Cold mucus, characterized by clear or white and possibly runny discharge and a sensation of cold would benefit from small amounts of horseradish or wasabi. 

Manages mucus and phlegm – We are supposed to have mucus, it just needs to be of the right amount, consistency and location. All radishes have a dynamic ability to clear up gunk as mentioned. Phlegm is particularly tenacious and recognized as a root problem in many conditions including: asthma, allergies, bronchitis, colds, pneumonia, candida, chronic fatigue, MS, fibro myalgia, painful obstruction syndromes, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders.  All of these disorders will greatly benefit from radishes moving and draining nature, you just need to use a little caution.  If you are prone to heat and have lots of yellow, thick mucus back away from the hot radish and use small amount so of the cooler. Too much heat on a hot condition will worsen it.

Clears and detoxes the Liver and Gall Bladder – One of the Liver’s role in Asian medicine is to maintain the smooth and easy flow of Qi. Qi can stagnate due to inappropriate management of emotions (oh, yeah–lot’s of that in the US), rich and congesting diet, or toxins, radishes can run to the rescue. Like other pungents they move Qi which will allow the Liver and his Yang partner the Gall Bladder to chill out – ah….free and flexible again.

Aids in digestion and weight loss, helps eliminate fats and stimulate the metabolism–Radishes’ ability to move stagnate Qi means that bile flow easily and the digestive organs receive Qi to transform foods.  I consider radishes essential if you are trying to bust up excess fats.  Their pungent nature gives the metabolism a nice little lift without depleting the system.

Busts up stones – Stones are considered an excess accumulation in Asian medicine. Here again, radishes can come to the rescue. Include them regularly to help dissolve existing stones and for prevention.

Releases to the exterior – that means it helps fight colds – Radishes’ pungent, moving nature helps the immune system warm up to push out exterior pathogens like a cold, flu or sore throat. Many classic remedies include a combination of vinegar with wasabi or horseradish that you run and take swig of when you start coming down with something. I use a grated daikon and honey recipe for sore throats.

Caution! A note on radishes

Match your pattern. When in health, dancing between the cooler to the hotter varieties is fine.  If you have a very hot condition – ringing in the ears, high temperature, high blood pressure, keep to the cooler side with daikon and larger mellower radishes.  If you have cold conditions – low metabolism, slow digestion, hypo thyroid, adrenal exhaustion use the warmer end of the spectrum.  A little goes a long way. If you have a lot of digestive stagnation, radishes can sometimes cause digestive rebellious Qi –that’s burping. Include a few probiotic foods and/or digestive enzymes until your system gets used to digesting them.

carrots and radish

grated carrots and radish

Ways to use radishes

  • Slice them onto salads –  Toss them over your mix of greens or just serve them as a side with dinner.
  • Nosh them straight from the garden Okay, you can rinse off the excess dirt first.
  • Eat the sprouts – High in protein, with out the heavy fats of animal proteins.
  • Stew them – Yeah, really.  The larger radishes are often used in soups and stews.
  • Grate them with carrots – Eat as is or toss them over salad greens.  Drizzle a light vinaigrette over them if  you’d like. 
  • Blend them – If you are prone to allergies or seasonal phlegm puree together radishes with a little vinegar, water and maybe a touch of honey.  Sip on it throughout the day to release lung phlegm.
  • Slice them onto sandwiches – Definite shift from bland.
  • Eat them pickled!

Be well!