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There’s more than one way to eat a radish!

Radishes (Raphanus sativus) are most well known in North America for the tuber-like root, which grows best in our cool spring and fall. Radishes are a peppery, crisp, root vegetable most often eaten raw while still immature. When overgrown (or mature) the root becomes less crisp and frequently has an overly hot and/or bitter taste.

My experience:
Having read somewhere about yummy radish seed pods and having grown some radishes this past spring, I decided to leave a few in the ground to mature enough to produce seed pods. Growth proceeded with about 50 percent of them dying from a type of root rot that I believe was due to the constantly wet soil and the other 50 percent going on to produce beet sized radish roots and 2 to 3 foot plants.

The day after I pulled up all my spent sugar snap pea vines (and therefore lost my access to instant breakfast in the garden) I noticed the still living radishes had gone to seed! With great excitement I tried one and it was delicious. They taste like a mild radish and feel like a sugar snap pea with that cool crunch when eaten raw. Yum…radishes to eat in the garden with no dirt in the mouth! I also cooked a batch with a quick time in boiling water until just slightly tender but still crisp followed by a quick saute in butter, served with salt and pepper. They were quite delicious, a merging of green bean, sugar snap pea, and mild radishy pepperyness. Be sure to remove the strings as they are tough.

Then, as with so many things, I did my research after the fact. It seems there is a type of radish that is grown just for its seedpods, which are eaten raw or cooked. The botanical name is Raphanus caudatus, with the common names of Podding radish, Java radish or Rattail radish. Podding radishes do not develop the thickened root (radish) and the pods are said to not taste radishy if picked young for some cultivars while others have a strong radish taste. I’m not sure what the non-radishy ones would taste of (sweet was mentioned in one source) or that this is a good thing. I’m charmed enough with my run of the mill red rooted radishes to simply let a few go seed for the edible pod from here on out. My Cherry Belles's seedpods do have a mild radish taste.

Still, I will likely order and try some of these speciality heirloom radishes and see if they are worth the dedicated space with no early spring radish roots as a prize . Online seed catalogs say they grow very tall and yield pods as early as 4 weeks after planting. They advise tomato cages or other devices to help hold the plant up. I can attest to this need with my Cherry Belles, as they now are growing sideways into the garden path. The catalogs advise that the pods be harvested while immature and continuously, presumably to keep the plant producing as long as possible as well as to obtain the crispy, tender and mild pod. Left to mature, much like the root of the common radish, the pods are said to become hard, spicy, hot, bitter and inedible. The pods are said to be 3- to 12-inches, tapered and green or purple and VERY abundant. The flowers are said to be yellow, usually. One source advises letting some Podding radish seedpods go on to maturity for purposes of saving seed. Raphanus caudatus is not a hybrid (even Webbie 1913 mentions " Rat-tailed radish" and sources mention it being popular during the American Civil War). In fact, just the opposite, I think it is just another lost veggie that needs befriending again as we have lost it in the "charms" of the hybrids. It is however listed in one source as a "Believe it or not" vegetable for the year 2003 so perhaps the comeback has already begun. I did read about it somewhere...which started this whole thing.

There are least two cultivars, 'Madras'(pre 1885) 'Munchen Bier' “This cultivar is a prolific producer of tender, stringless 2- to 3-inch, usually bright lavender, seed pods resembling small pea pods located along a 2- to 5-foot stem. When eaten raw, some pods may have a hint of radish and others will not. Steamed, none will have a hint of radish.”1 They are said to be somewhat sweet.2 The cultivar 'Rat's Tail', 'Mongri' or 'Snake Radish' (1860) is "from Java in Southeast Asia. For a while this radish was in vogue in the U.S. around the Civil War, but has been virtually unobtainable since. While Madras Radish pods have a mild radish taste, this variety is for radish lovers with a pungent radish taste much like most small or forcing radishes. This variety loves heat and will bear all summer long".2 (This source does sell the seed so it isn't quite unobtainable.) Another source lists Munchen Bier separately and says "(Radis a bier de Munich)19th Century. Useful in that both the roots and the seed pods may be used."3

I also see in my little back yard experiment that there is variation among the seed pods and the flowers despite the supposedly hybrid Cherry Belle radishes all being started from the same seed package. Most have white flowers and short knobby pea green pods but one has pink/purple flowers and longer, slim, pea green pods

Radishes are a member of botanical family Brassicaceae (as are broccoli and cauliflower) and the flowers attract the white brasciaca butterfly although I have not seen any of the little green caterpillars I so commonly find on my broccoli on the radish plants.

Our sneff tells me he wishes to try radish sprouts which has led me to the next level of experimentation. Some of the seed pods are being left to mature so I can harvest seeds in order to produce sprouts. This is not a hardship as these are prolific producers!

This could lead to another whole level of radishy goodness with radish sprouts available all year round!

Recipes exist on the Internet for RADISH-GREENS SOUP, RADISH AND FENNEL SALAD and SAUTEED RADISHES and can be found with a simple google search on these terms. One source says "In Egypt and the Near East another form is grown only for its tops, for greens. While there is probably nothing actually unwholesome about the tops of our varieties, they are far less palatable than leaves of turnips and other members of the cabbage clan" but sadly doesn't specify the cultivar. 4

“The podding radish and its close relative the ‘regular’ radish have had a long relationship with man. China is believed to be the country of origin, since truly wild forms have been found there. Middle Asia and India appear to be secondary centers where many different forms developed after the plant was introduced from China in prehistoric times. Third-century B.C. Greeks wrote of their radishes, and by 100 A.D. Roman writers described small and large types, mild and biting varieties, and round and long forms. A German botanist in 1544 reported radishes of 100 pounds. Radishes appear to be one of the first European crops introduced into the Americas, closely behind the arrival of Columbus.” 1

The ways to enjoy the radish seem endless, beginning in spring as our doyle does with a tap to loosen the worst of the dirt from the root followed by crunching in the garden to salads,soups and sautés of the root and young leaves. Summer brings us tasty seed pods which can again be enjoyed raw or cooked and eventually mature seeds yield year round sprouts. Fresh radish roots can be enjoyed at least twice each year, growing well in the cooling days of autumn as well as spring. I also suspect they could be grown indoors in pots year round. (I've only dealt with the spring radish; there is also the winter radish for even more peppery goodness!)

A year later, early May as I'm weeding the garden I found a patch of volunteer radishes. Grown from last years seedpods, scattered naturally. I decided to try them doyle's way...fresh in the garden. Yummers. I also left a few for pods this summer. I believe I may have the start of a perpetual radish patch in the works!

1) http://www.mobot.org/gardeninghelp/plantfinder/codea/A761.shtml
2) http://www.bountifulgardens.org/index.html
Other sources of information, photos and catalogs:
3) http://www.users.dircon.co.uk/~nfarley/thomas-etty/vegetables/radish_summer.htm
4) http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/publications/vegetabletravelers/radishes.html (interesting history of radishes in Asia)