Botanical name: Raphanus sativus
Offering a peppery, satisfying crunch with every bite, radishes have a unique place in the hearts of veggie lovers. A root from the Brassica family and a cousin to cabbage, the many shapes, sizes and colors of different radish varieties is surprising.
In the U.S., the average large radish is red, round with a glistening white interior and roughly the size of a ping pong or golf ball. Another type is the creamy white daikon - a true tuber with the tail to show for it, and a winter radish, while the red ones proliferate in the spring. The original radish was black. Other varieties come in pink, dark grey, purple, two-tone green and white, and yellow.
The radish is well-traveled and ancient, mentioned in historical Chinese annals as early as 2,700 B.C. Egyptians cultivated them even before building the pyramids. Greeks and Romans liked them as large as they would grow, and served them with honey and vinegar. Radish cultivation reached England, Germany, Mexico, and Puerto Rico by the 1500s. In Britain, radishes had medicinal as well as culinary uses, usually for kidney stones, bad skin, and intestinal worms. It may have worked, because the colonists brought radish seeds with them to the New World.
Radishes are still a popular garden crop, planted and harvested early and seemingly impervious to light frost. When harvesting or buying red radishes, make sure they're not too large or they're apt to be hollow or pithy. The greens and the roots are used in cooking, especially with additions like spinach. Just wash them well and make sure they're not limp or yellow.
Before refrigerating radishes, wash, remove greens from the top, and place in plastic baggies with a paper towel at the bottom. This optimizes moisture content from the rest of the radish and helps keep them fresh for about a week. Sliced, they make a zippy addition to sandwiches and salads.
Health Benefits of Radishes
While you may not consume 10 large radishes in one sitting, the 100-gram portion serves as a way to better determine the nutritional value of just a few, since that amount doesn’t equate to any discernible dietary value.
Radishes are a very good source of vitamin C – 25% of the daily recommended value – helping to rebuild tissues and blood vessels, and keeping bones and teeth strong. Vitamin C fights disease and rescues the cells from an onslaught of destructive free radicals. This is done through electrolytes and natural antioxidant action of this one vitamin, increasing immunity of the body, and helping to fight against all kinds of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Folate, fiber, riboflavin, and potassium, as well as good amounts of copper, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, and calcium are less prominent nutrients that support the healthy properties of radishes.
It's probably no surprise that radishes contain fiber, aka indigestible carbohydrates. This keeps your system flushed and functioning with regularity and also aids in maintaining a healthy weight. Ironically, these naturally-heated veggies may help put an end to any burning sensation experienced during urination. That may be because radishes are a natural diuretic, purifying the kidney and urinary systems and relieving inflammation.
Radishes can also regulate blood pressure, relieve congestion, and prevent respiratory problems such as asthma or bronchitis. They have antibacterial, antifungal, and detoxifying properties, and contain compounds that soothe rashes, dryness, and other skin disorders.
Eating radishes can help in the removal of bilirubin, a condition evidenced by a yellow tinge in the skin, mucus membranes, or eyes, often present in newborns. This type of jaundice occurs when bilirubin builds up in bile faster than the liver can break it down and pass it through your body. Meanwhile, the beneficial properties in radishes also inhibit red blood cell damage by supplying fresh oxygen to your blood.
Another mouthful of phytochemical goodness in radishes includes detoxifying agents called indoles, and the powerful flavonoids zeaxanthin, lutein, and beta carotene. Radishes also contain an important isothiocyanate antioxidant compound called sulforaphane, a proven inhibitor of prostate, colon, breast, ovarian and other cancers.
While many vegetables have been pushed upon us at the dinner table as kids, you don’t often hear “eat your radishes honey.” Broccoli, spinach, green beans and asparagus are the more common culprits, but it might be worth adding radishes to the repertoire. As a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, radishes have a host of health benefits but are typically under-appreciated – pushed around on crudité platters until they’re all that’s left and then drowned in ranch dressing to wash them down.
However, for both their health benefits and amazing array of flavors radishes top our list of foods to start paying more attention to and eating on a daily basis. Especially in the spring and early summer when they grow locally and can be picked at their height of freshness and flavor, radishes should be a staple item in your kitchen.
Beyond the natural zing and satisfying crunch they provide, here are nine reasons to “eat your radishes!”
1. Naturally cooling
Radishes are a naturally cooling food and their pungent flavor is highly regarded in eastern medicine for the ability to decrease excess heat in the body that can build up during the warmer months.
2. Sooth sore throats
Their pungent flavor and natural spice can help eliminate excess mucus in the body and can be especially helpful when fighting a cold. Radishes can help clear the sinuses and soothe soar throats too.
3. Aids digestion
Radishes are a natural cleansing agent for the digestive system, helping to break down and eliminate stagnant food and toxins built up over time.
4. Prevents viral infections
Because of their high vitamin C content and natural cleansing effects, regular consumption of radishes can help prevent viral infections.
5. Eliminates toxins
In Eastern and Ayurvedic healing practices radishes are said to have effective toxin-purging effects, helping break down and eliminate toxins and cancer-causing free radicals in the body.
6. Protects against cancer
As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family (same family as broccoli and cabbage) radishes contain phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals that are cancer protecting.
7. Relieves indigestion
Radishes have a calming effect on the digestive system and can help relieve bloating and indigestion.
8. Low in calories, high in nutrients
With a very low calorie count, less than 20 calories in an entire cup, radishes are a great way to add nutrients, fiber and tons of flavor to your meals without compromising your health.
9. Keeps you hydrated
With a high water content and lots of vitamin C as well as phosphorus and zinc, radishes are a nourishing food for the tissues and can help keep your body hydrated and your skin looking fresh and healthy all summer long!
Want a recipe to go along with your next bunch of radishes? Try our Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Radishes recipe. Or if you’re looking for even MORE ideas, download Full Circle’s free weekly meal planner.