Claire’s 18th Century Garden: Black Spanish Round Radish



Oh Radish!

Today we see radishes in Asian cuisine, or relegated to the lowly position of garnish, cut into cute rose shapes. It makes sense radishes play a role in Asian dishes, the plant appears to have originated in China.  In the western world it was the Greeks who brought the radish to Europe, likely through contact with India or trade across the Black Sea.  And like the other vegetables in Claire’s 18th century garden this is one very old and well known plant. The practice of eating radishes raw with salt and vinegar goes back to Galen of Pergamon who lived A.D. 129–199.

Claire would have loved her radishes. Radishes are high in vitamin C, if you can stand to eat the leaves they contain more than the radish itself, and radishes were used for centuries to prevent scurvy or eaten as a cold remedy. The peppery hot bite might have even helped to clear the sinuses. During the Middle Ages there are over twenty references to the use of superne raedic  as a medicine or tonic, including the rather dubious claim that it was effective in warding off a woman’s chatter.  The radish variety mentioned is thought to be a large white variety akin to the white-skinned form of Long Black Spanish, the cousin of the Black Spanish Round in your seed packet.

While Claire was in France she might have run into the Abbé Rozier, who wrote an eighteenth-century agricultural encyclopedia, and cataloged varieties of radish by shape, color, and place of origin. Unfortunately there were very popular varieties of radishes developed by French noblemen in their châteaux gardens, all bearing aristocratic names that were quickly dropped during the French Revolution.  The net result was a horticultural nightmare as sorting out which radish was which became almost impossible until the varieties crossed over to England, acquired English names, and then made their way, under the same names, to America.

American gardeners relied on English seed, and the list of radishes in early seed catalogs are surprisingly extensive, extending to three types: spring, summer, and winter varieties.  The winter radishes, including this Black Spanish Round are hearty enough to be able to winter over in the garden under a protective cover of straw, providing a frost resistant source of vitamin C all winter, and, more importantly, not taking up valuable space in the root cellar. Claire would have picked cute little early radishes in the spring, but those for winter storage were grown big.  This black spanish radish is roughly half the size a radish could reach if it were watered, weeded, and thinned, throughout the season

Claire’s knew radishes are a cool season crop and quick to mature.  Thus these heirloom seeds can be planted in spring or fall.  Sow seed in a shallow furrow, rows 4-6″ apart, and cover with ¼” of sifted compost or light sand.  Thin to a final spacing after the first couple leaves appear: 3″ apart.  Remember larger spacing will yield larger radishes, smaller spacing, smaller radishes, or you keep thinning as the radishes grow.  Water consistently to keep radishes from getting woody, and cover over with a bed of straw after the first frost to winter over the radishes in their bed.

Learn more about Claire’s 18th Century garden vegetables

Read more:

1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from AudiblePlanting a garden is more fun when you’re listening to Davina Porter reading the Outlander series.. in fact, I can trace my obsession with the 18th century to Outlander, bought on because it was the most listening bang for the buck.. over 40 hours of book will weed a lot of garden. The whole series? Will have you producing most of your own vegetables in no time!

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