Horseradish fibres for cordage

A fantastic finished cordage material

Easily missed in the hedgerow at this time of year are the large dock-like leaves of Horseradish. In fact, for many years, I assumed this plant was a relation of the docks as I had never seen it in flower. Horseradish is a member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) and has small four petalled white flowers.

Most of us will know (if not love!) the culinary uses of this plant’s root stock but this blog highlights the perhaps less well-known use of the strong, white, leaf rib fibres for making a durable cordage from, and illustrates a suggested method for preparing them.

Fibres from horseradish stems
Fibres from horseradish stems.

After the recent hot dry spell, the leaves I chose from a local hedgerow were becoming quite dry and crispy in places but as we are discarding the green vegetable matter of the leaf, just check that the leaf stalk is green, not brown or dry and brittle.

Harvesting suitable stems
Harvesting suitable stems.

Look for the longest leaf stalks you can find and then starting at the top end of the leaf strip the green vegetable matter backwards down the stem by simply wrapping your hand around the stalk and running it towards the base of the leaf stalk. This should give you a bundle of green leaf stalks for the next stage.

Stripping the stems clean
Stripping the stems clean.

Next you will need a knife to first cleanly cut the base of each leaf stalk, and then split the stalk in half lengthways. Look closely at the stalk and you will notice a groove running its entire length – split along this carefully with your knife.

Starting to access the fibres inside
Starting to access the fibres inside.

For the next stage you will find a spoon and a chopping board useful in scraping away the wet fleshy white inner parts of each half of the leaf stalk you have just split into two.

Getting ready to remove the outer flesh
Getting ready to remove the outer flesh.

Placing each half of the leaf stalk on the chopping board with the inner surface facing upwards, apply gentle downward pressure with the edge of your spoon and using a scraping action begin cleaning away all the debris to reveal the white long thin fibres beneath.

Scraping clean
Scraping clean.

Turn the stem over and repeat the procedure on the outside of each half leaf stalk to remove the very thin green outer ‘skin’ leaving the clean white parallel fibres on the chopping board.

The fibres starting to appear
The fibres starting to appear.

If you find the fibres are breaking easily or either the fleshy inner or green outer parts are not easily scraped away, you can soak the stems in warm water to rehydrate and loosen the fibres.

Soak if necessary
Soak if necessary.

Horseradish produces very strong thin fibres which can be easily split along their length into finer hair like fibres and then recombined to make cordage of varying widths. It is reasonably fast to gather and prepare a nice bundle of fibres for cordage making although the smell occasionally gets your eyes and nose!

The hair like fibres released for use
The hair like fibres released for use.

NB be aware that Horseradish is toxic to cats and keep the scrapings carefully collected if you have pets around.

As with many types of fibre for making cordage it is advisable to allow the Horseradish fibres to dry completely before working them into a two-ply or braided cord. When ready to cord, simply wet your fingers and run them through the strands to make them supple enough for twisting. Avoid re soaking fibres as this will swell them and introduces a shrinkage issue into your cord production.

Strong fibres to start with are a bonus, but the strongest cordage comes from knowing how to combine the prepared fibres into carefully arranged bundles focusing on consistency within each bundle and along the resulting length of cord that is made.

Once you learn the technique for making a simple two-ply cord you can begin experimenting with all manner of fibres and materials, some come from the most unlikely of plants around you, possibly in your garden or in your nearest hedgerow…

A fantastic finished cordage material
A fantastic finished cordage material.

Winter can be a tricky time of year for fibre gathering and so gathering and preparing fibres now means you’ll have a nice store built up ready for any winter craftiness you might indulge in.

Related posts