Radishes are members of the cruciferous family of vegetables. Members of this plant family have edible foliage. Other members of this family include: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, turnips, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, arugula, horse radish, wasabi and watercress. Radish leaves play an important role in several facets of life including: culinary, environmental conservation and cancer research.
Radishes are not only grown for their spicy underground structures, but for their above-ground greenery as well. Radish leaves have a spicy, peppery taste and are best used young. When thinning out your radishes, use the young plants in salads and stir fry. You can boil, braise, fry or steam your radish leaves. Radish leaves can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two to three days. Remove the tops from the bottom portion to increase storage time for both radish and greens.
Radish leaves also play an important role in environmental conservation. Radishes are being grown around the world as cover crops. Cover cropping is using a plant or group of plants for their specific attributes to increase soil nutrients, suppress weeds and increase organic matter for a primary crop. Daikon radishes are planted in the fall after harvest to penetrate hard soil due to their large underground structure. However, daikon radishes also have a large foliage cover to help suppress weeds and reduce herbicide applications.
Cancer Prevention of the Future?
Studies are underway at Oregon State University to study the potential for cancer prevention due to a high diet of cruciferous vegetables, like radish leaves. One characteristic that sets cruciferous vegetables apart from other vegetables is their high glucosinolate content. According to Oregon State University Micronutrient Information Center: "Glucosinolate hydrolysis products could help prevent cancer by enhancing the elimination of carcinogens before they can damage DNA, or by altering cell-signaling pathways in ways that help prevent normal cells from being transformed into cancerous cells."
Radishes are cool-season plants, and perform best in early spring and fall. Directly seed your radishes in the garden as soon as the soil dries out in the spring and can be worked. Bury the seed 1/2- to 1/4-inch deep, and space them 1 to 2 inches apart. Thicker seeding can be done, and thinned later. These young plants can then be used in your recipes. Do not plant in the heat of the summer or your leaves will bolt, or set seed, and become bitter.