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Raphanus sativus – from the Greek raphanus meaning ‘easily grown’ and the Latin sativus, which means ‘cultivated’.

Photo By Robyn Rosenfeldt


Radishes have a long history of cultivation and their origins are not certain. Alphonse de Candolle (1886) mentions that wild specimens were found near Mt Ararat in Turkey, and in Palestine and Armenia. It is thought there were two major centres of origin: the warmer parts of Europe and Asia.


The radish varies enormously in size and shape, from small red ones to large white ones.


Radishes can be sown quite close to each other and the thinnings, leaves and all, can be eaten. They need a mature compost-rich soil to become crisp and mild-flavoured. In summer, they prefer to grow in the shade, even in really cool climates like Tasmania.

Saving The Seed

Annual radishes produce seeds in one season while the biennial ones, such as the black winter radishes, need two seasons. As they are insect-pollinated and self- incompatible, leave more than one plant to go to seed.

They will cross with wild radish, but they will not cross with other brassicas. Save seeds from those plants that are last to bolt. They will produce stalks one-metre tall, with some varieties sending up particularly tall seed heads which will need to be staked and protected from the wind. Radish flowers are white, pink or purple and rely on insects for pollination.

The long pods are swollen with only a few seeds in each (see photo). Cut the stalks when the pods are a light brown and hang in the garage to dry further. Pods can also be picked individually and spread on a screen to dry. They will not shatter, so they must be crushed to obtain the seeds, but be careful not to split the seed in the process.

Dry the seed in a shady place for a further week or two depending on the weather. The seed itself is about the size of a match head and cleaning is easily done with a large-gauge screen to let the seed pass through, followed by a small-gauge screen to get rid of any chaff and dust.


Seeds are roundish and have a slightly compressed shape. They will last for four years when stored correctly. If seeds are not properly dried before storing in an airtight container, they will not even last a year. There are 100 seeds to the gram.


The French eat the small annual radishes as an entree with butter and salt. The taste is very nutty and improved by mashing salted anchovies into the butter. Radishes are generally sweeter in winter because their starches convert to sugars in the cold weather.

The young seed pods are used as a green vegetable and there’s an heirloom variety called Rat Tail that is grown specifically for its fresh green seed pods. The leaves of a radish plant are edible and can be eaten like spinach, if they are cooked in a large quantity of water to help eliminate the bitterness.

On The Lookout

A lot of people have kept interesting winter radish varieties over the years. There are turnip-rooted, olive- shaped and half-long types. Long-rooted ones include Long White Vienna, Marsh and Black Spanish.

The Palestinian radish arrived in Adelaide in the 1930s with immigrants and is a fine-flavoured stout black radish that is eaten with rock salt. Japanese Daikon, a long white radish, is slower growing than smaller varieties and has sparse foliage and a terrific texture and taste. It is the number-one selling vegetable in Japan.


This is an edited extract from Michel and Jude Fanton’s book The Seed Savers’ Handbook: A Permaculture Seed (Seed Savers Network 2020)


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