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Raphanus sativus L. 1753
pronounced: RAFF-an-uss sat-EYE-vuss
(Brassicaceae – the mustard family)
common name: Radish
Raphanus was the Roman name for the radish; the word had been borrowed from the Greek ραφανις (raphanis), their name for the plant, which means ‘quickly appearing’. Sativus is Latin for ‘cultivated’. Our English word ‘radish’ comes, via the French radis, from the Latin word radix, a root.
The radish was a well-established crop in ancient Greek and Roman times, but it is not known when and where it was first cultivated. It is the ideal crop with which to introduce children to gardening. The seeds germinate with a few days, and the roots are big enough to harvest within a few weeks. Radishes are typically red and round, but cultivars are available to give white, pink, or purple radishes. There are literally hundreds of varieties, coming in a wide range of colours and shapes. Some are very mild, while others will make the eyes water.
Radishes are rich in ascorbic acid, folic acid and potassium. They are a good source of vitamin B6, riboflavin, magnesium, copper and calcium, and are low in calories, most of which come from carbohydrates, making them a very filling food for their calorific value. The most commonly eaten portion is the taproot, although the entire plant is edible, and the tops can be used as a leaf vegetable. The root is usually eaten raw, although tougher specimens can be steamed. The raw flesh has a crisp texture and a pungent peppery flavour caused by glucosinolates and the enzyme myrosinase, which combine when chewed to form allyl isothiocyanates, also present in mustard and horseradish.
Here is a selection of cultivars:
• ‘April Cross’ is a giant white radish hybrid.
• ‘Cherry Belle’ is a bright red-skinned round variety with a white interior. It is popular in the USA.
• ‘Champion’ looks like ‘Cherry Belle’, but is larger (about 5 cm) with a milder flavour.
• ‘Snow Belle’ is an all-white variety similar in shape to ‘Cherry Belle’.
• ‘White Icicle’, sometimes called just ‘Icicle’, is a white carrot-shaped variety, 10 – 12 cm long, that dates back to the 16th century. It slices easily, and has better-than-average resistance to pithiness.
• ‘French Breakfast’ is an elongated red-skinned radish with a white splash at the root end. It is typically slightly milder than other summer varieties, but is amongst the quickest to turn pithy.
• ‘Plum Purple’ is a purple-fuchsia radish that tends to stay crisper longer than others.
• ‘Gala’ and ‘Roodbol’ are two varieties popular in the Netherlands as a breakfast dish, thinly sliced on buttered bread.
• ‘Easter Egg’ is not an actual variety, but a mix of radishes with different skin colours, typically including white, pink, red and purple radishes. Sold in markets or seed packets under the name, the seed mixes can extend the length of the harvest, as different varieties will mature at different times.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2010, 2012
Page last updated 13th February 2018