Why You Should Grow Radishes (And lots of radish recipes!)

As I was sowing radish seed in my garden this week, I couldn't help but feel sad for people who think they don't like radishes, and therefore would never try to grow them. I'm betting many of them don't know there are numerous types of radishes, and not all of them are spicy or peppery; some are very mild-tasting, in fact. I also feel confident that a lot of people don't know how versatile radishes are in the kitchen. They work as a low-carb potato substitute, or add just a dash of "perk" to a wide variety of dishes, from breakfast treats to dinner sides and entrees. Plus, they are probably the easiest vegetable to grow - not to mention, one of spring's first crops.

Why Grow Radishes? 

Radishes are one of the crops I recommend for children's gardens because young kids aren't typically patient - and radishes are speedy growers; many varieties are ready for harvest in only 25 days. Because of their fast and abundant nature, radishes are also a huge boon to adult gardeners. They make a welcomed first harvest from the garden, and act as a great "filler" when you harvest some other crop and suddenly have an empty spot to fill. They also make an excellent plant to intercrop with bigger, longer growing plants, such as tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, or broccoli.

Even urban gardeners can find room for a pot of radishes on their rooftop or balcony. Radishes are small, aren't very picky about their growing conditions, and they pack a nice nutritional punch.(Most varieties are about 19 calories per cup, sliced with about 3.9 carbs per cup and are a great source of vitamin C (17 milligrams per cup), potassium (268 mg), and antioxidants, plus some iron and phosphorus.)

Types of Radishes 

There are at least hundreds of varieties of radishes to choose from, but this small sampling is designed to give you a better idea of the sort of culinary variety that is available in this under-appreciated vegetable. 

Table Radish: These are the radishes everyone has seen in the grocery store: round, red, and peppery-tasting. They actually come in many varieties (my favorite is Roxanne), and can also be pink, purple, or white. Breakfast radishes, which are more common in Europe than in the United States, are red and elongated with a white end. They can have a slightly less peppery flavor than the classic round table radish. 

Breakfast radishes are more mild. Photo courtesy of .

Daikon radish: These Asian radishes are shaped more like a carrot or parsnip; in fact, if you look at Beatrix Potter's original illustrations of Peter Rabbit eating from Mr. McGreggor's garden, Peter is chowing down on daikons (not carrots, as many people presume). Unlike table radishes, daikon radishes have a very mild flavor that can, depending upon variety, have a slight sweetness. In the United States, we mostly see white daikons, but they can also be green, purple, pink, or red. 

Generally, daikon radishes take about twice as long to grow as table radishes, but they are a boon to gardeners because they help break up, aerate, and improve clay and hardpan soil. Sometimes daikons are used as a cover crop for this reason; the roots also exude sugar, which attracts beneficial microorganisms. To improve pastures, some homesteaders plant daikons, allowing their livestock to eat the radish leaves and keeping the roots in the soil to slowly rot and improve the soil even further. 

Daikon radishes are very mild-tasting. Photo courtesy of  .

Watermelon Radish: With light green and white skin, but pink inner flesh, watermelon radishes are sweeter than table radishes, but they do still have a bit of "bite" to them. This radish is from the daikon family, but deserves special attention because of its unique look and flavor. 


Watermelon radishes are sweeter. Photo courtesy of .

Malaga radish: This deep purple radish is known for its mild flavor. The flesh is white, but may have purple at its center. Hailing from Poland, this variety is known for keeping its crispness in storage longer than most other types of radishes.

Winter Radish: Varieties like Runder Sschwazer fare much better in the colder months than other types of radishes.They can be overwintered in the garden and some store well in a cool location, like a root cellar.

Winter radishes can overwinter in the garden. Photo courtesy of .

How to Grow Radishes 

In most parts of the United States, radishes grow best in spring and fall. If grown when the days are longer and hotter, they may bolt (i.e. go to flower), turning the edible root woody and bitter. But if this happens, all is not lost, because radish seed pods are also a tasty and edible treat - something like a green bean with a slightly radishy flavor. 

Radish seed pods are also tasty food.

Radishes are not too fussy about soil, but it's a good idea to add compost to improve drainage in areas where radishes will grow. Make sure the location is sunny, with at least 6 hours of sunlight per day; if radishes are planted in shadier areas, they will grow lots of leaves (which are edible), but very small roots. It shouldn't be necessary to fertilize radishes and, in fact, too much nitrogen will also encourage lots of leaves, but small roots. 

Direct sow the seeds about 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost (or 4 to 6 weeks before the first fall frost) at the depth and spacing indicated on the seed packet, then make sure the soil stays moist, but not soggy, until the seeds germinate. As the radishes grow, give them consistent soil moisture. Allowing radishes to dry out will make them woody and more spicy-tasting. Mulching around radishes helps with water retention.

Even the dogs like radishes!

If you plant seeds closer than an inch or two apart (for table radishes; other radish varieties may need more room), they will need thinning once the first leaves appear. Overcrowded radishes grow small roots. To thin, simply cut off the leaves at soil level. These snippings make tasty additions to salads. 

When the shoulders of the radishes pop up over the soil, they are ready for harvest. (For daikon radishes, it may be better to keep track of the days until harvest given on the seed packet, and pull the radishes then.) Leaving radishes in the ground too long makes them more peppery, and eventually makes them woody. 

With the exception of some winter radishes, do not store radishes in the ground. Instead, pull them up, cut off the leaves, put the roots in a plastic bag, and store them in the crisper drawer, unwashed, with the bag only partially closed. The edible leaves can also be stored in unsealed plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Leaves should be eaten within a week or so. Daikon variety roots last a week or two in the refrigerator, whereas some table radish roots may last months, although they'll gradually lose their crispness. As with most vegetables, radishes taste best when eaten immediately after harvesting.

How to Eat Radishes 

Most of us have eaten sliced or chopped radishes in salads, but radishes offer much more variety than that! They can be eaten at any meal of the day. Here are some of my favorite ways to eat radishes. 

If you don't care for the peppery flavor of table radishes, I highly recommend that you try adding them, whole or halved, to soups and stews. Once the meal is cooked through, the radishes will have a very mild flavor: All the pepperiness is gone! Although they won't taste exactly like potatoes, radishes cooked this way are often used as a potato substitute. 

Radishes cooked in stews or soups lose their peppery flavor and become very mild.

Radishes may also be roasted; if you're using a spicy variety, this leaves just a bit of their peppery flavor behind. Halve or quarter the radishes, toss with olive or avocado oil, generously season with sea salt and a bit of pepper, then roast in a preheated 400 degree F. oven until tender, turning the radishes over once. You can also throw halved or quartered radishes into an air fryer for similar results. If you want to get really fancy, you can thinly slice radishes, oil, season, air fry at 400 degrees F., and eat as low carb "chips." 

Air fried radish "chips."

Similarly, radishes can be sautéed. If you grate them first, they look a bit like hashbrowns. Season them well with salt and pepper and maybe a sprinkling of chives. 

Radish hash.

You can also chop radishes and then sauté them in bacon drippings or butter. Try adding a little thyme, garlic, and shallots. Or sometimes I sauté them to the desired tenderness, then treat them with all the typical "loaded" potato ingredients, including sour cream, chives, bacon crumbles, and cheese. 

Loaded radishes.

Radishes can also be grilled; spicy varieties will keep a little "bite" when cooked this way. It's best to pre-cook them (in a bowl filled with water, covered with a towel, and placed in the microwave for about 5 minutes or until fork-tender; you could also gently boil them until fork tender). Then skewer them and combine some melted butter, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Brush this mixture over the radishes and grill at about 450 degrees F., turning over at least once, until browned and the desired tenderness is reached. 

For a breakfast treat, the French have a centuries-long tradition of eating sliced, raw breakfast radishes with sea salt and quality butter. It may sound really weird, but I assure you, it's yummy...and the butter removes the pepperiness of table radishes! I recommend picking the radishes just before serving. You may also enjoy radishes prepared in this manner served on top of toast. 

Breakfast radishes are surprisingly mild and delicious!


As a snack, you might like pickled radishes, which also make a zingy addition to sandwiches or salads. To make quick refrigerator pickles, thinly slice about 1/2 lb. of fresh radishes. Mix together 1/2 cup of apple cider or white vinegar, 1/4 cup of water, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper (or, for a milder flavor, 3 whole black peppercorns), 1 bay leaf, and an optional 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. You may also add up to 1/2 cup of sugar, which will tone down the vinegary-flavor. Bring this brine to a boil. Place thinly sliced radishes in a freshly washed, hot pint jar, then cover with them with the brine. Allow the jar to cool a little, then put a lid on it and refrigerate for a couple of days before consuming. 

Pickled radishes.

If you prefer the healthy probiotics of fermented pickles, you can make radish pickles this way, instead: Stir 2 teaspoons of sea salt into 2 cups of non-chlorinated water until fully dissolved. Most radishes should be halved or quartered, but longer radishes, like daikons, can be sliced into fry-like shapes. Or you may slice the radishes into rounds. Place the prepared radishes in a freshly washed jar, then cover with the brine. If you like, you can add flavorings such as a clove of garlic and a sprig of dill, to the brine. Weigh down the food so it sits below the liquid level (a freshly washed jelly jar filled with marbles will work, or use a store-bought weight), then cover the jar with cheesecloth held in place with twine or a rubber band. Place the jar inside a bowl in case liquid overflows during fermentation, then place everything in a cool location. After the first day, begin tasting the radishes (always with a freshly washed fork) to see if you're satisfied with their level of fermentation. I don't recommend fermenting beyond 5 days. The radishes will become softer every day you ferment. 

No discussion of eating radishes would be complete without mentioning the leaves. Although they may seem a little prickly (depending upon the variety), those prickles completely disappear after cooking. I love them sautéed in bacon drippings, with a little minced garlic, sea salt, pepper, and maybe chopped bacon mixed in. The leaves also can be used anywhere you'd use cooked spinach. For example, in quiches, enchiladas, stuffed chicken breasts, and casseroles. 

They also make a fine pesto (substitute fresh radish leaves for basil) and a traditional soup. To make radish top soup: 1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan. Add in 1 onion, diced, sautéing until tender. 2. Stir in 2 medium-sized potatoes, sliced, and 4 cups of fresh radish leaves. Add 4 cups of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour. 3. Allow the soup to cool a bit, then carefully use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. (You may also use a traditional blender, carefully transferring the hot soup in portions, pureeing, then pouring into a different pot or bowl. Return the soup to the saucepan.) 4. Stir in 1/3 of a cup of heavy cream. When heated through, serve. 

Cover image by

Related Posts:


No comments