Wasabia japonica (Miq.) Matsum. (Brassicaceae) Japanese Horseradish, Wasabi (Medicine)

Synonyms — Alliaria wasabi Prantl, Cochlearia wasabi Sieb., Eutrema japonica (Miq.) Koidz., E. wasabi Maxim., Lunaria japonica Miq., Wasabia pungens Matsum., W. wasabi (Maxim.) Makino.

Medicinal Uses (Wasabi) —

The health benefits of other cruciferous veggies also accrue to the wasabi, making it one of those that are especially useful for preventing cancer. These are all generously endowed with health-giving, sulfur containing compounds, like isothiocyanates and sulforaphane, to name some receiving a lot of press lately. I think that most of the activities and indications given for horseradish could accrue as easily to wasabi were it as well studied among occidentals. Dr. Hideki Masuda, Ph.D., director of the Material Research and Development Laboratories at Ogawa & Co., Ltd., in Japan, reports (pers. comm.) that a phytochemical in wasabi prevents tooth decay in laboratory tests. Isothiocyanates, which are reported from wasabi, are known to possess antiseptic and bactericidal properties. Dr. Masuda hypothesized and demonstrated that isothiocyanates would inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria that causes dental caries, in test-tube studies. One of 12 isothiocyanates he isolated effectively inhibited the enzyme glucosyltransferase (GTF), an enzyme that catalyzes the formation of glucan from sucrose by which Streptococcus mutans form plaque on teeth. Streptococcus mutans produces lactic acid on plaque and initiates tooth decay. He also reports other health benefits for wasabi: prevention of prostate cancer, prevention of harmful blood clot formation, antiasthmatic properties, and anti-parasitic properties (Masuda, pers. comm. 2001). Andy Weil (Self Healing March 2001) suggests horseradish (and wasabi) for battling stuffy sinus: “You can thin mucus and congestion with fresh horseradish. Clean and peel a press root, grate or grind after chunking, adding enough vinegar to moisten.” I’ll add that, if making the sauce doesn’t open your sinuses and make your nose run, then its time to eat it (Weil, A. 2001. And it can be used as a sinus-opening seafood sauce, of green wasabi and red ketchup, lavishly lashed with lemon juice, and served with boiled shrimp, if not sushi.
One report in New York, and another in California, recount serious adverse effects due to ingestion of a generous portion of wasabi: white face, confusion, profuse sweating, even collapse (TAD). This response could be serious in patients with weakened blood vessels in the brain or heart (RIN). One person reportedly suffered “vasomotor near collapse” after ingesting a small amount (all in one bite, since he did not know wasabi). Diners in Japanese restaurants should know that green wasabi paste is meant to be mixed with tamari (soy sauce) and used in very small amounts (Libster, 2002).

Indications (Wasabi) —

Asthma (1; ABS); Bacteria (1; ABS); Cancer (1; FNF; TAD); Cancer, lung (1; X10822125); Cancer, prostate (1; ABS); Caries (1; ABS); Congestion (f; ABS); Fungus (1; X10571166); High Blood Pressure (1; FNF); Infection (1; X10571166); Mycosis (1; X10571166); Parasite (1; ABS); Sinusosis (1; ABS); Streptococcus (1; ABS); Thrombosis (1; TAD); Trypanosomiasis (1; FNF); Virus (1; FNF).
Wasabi for cancer:
• Anticancer: 6-methyl-sulfinyl-hexyl-isothiocyanate; allyl-isothiocyanate; sinigrin
• Anticarcinomic: 6-methyl-sulfinyl-hexyl-isothiocyanate
• Antimutagenic: 4-pentenyl-isothiocyanate; allyl-isothiocyanate
Wasabi for cold/flu:
• Antiseptic: allyl-isothiocyanate
• Decongestant: allyl-isothiocyanate
• Phagocytotic: sinigrin

Other Uses (Wasabi) —

Occurs in Japan and eastern Siberia as a cultivar, the roots, twigs, and petioles used as a spice, especially with fish dishes. It’s the hot green horseradish-like spice so often served with Japanese cuisine, e.g., sashimi (slices of raw fish) and sushi (a piece of raw seafood on a bed of rice). The fleshy rhizomes are grated into the attractive green paste. Japanese consider it distinct from, and pungently superior to, common horseradish. In the U.S., it is sold in Japanese-American stores as a can of dry powder, to which one merely adds 3/4 tsp water to 1 tsp powder. Mixed with soy sauce, the powder becomes a piquant and tasty dip. It is used to decorate carrots and cucumbers and with such dishes as “nigri zushi” (small kneaded ball of sour rice with sliced fish), “norimaki zushi” (Japanese sour rice in sheets of nori, a marine red algae, with cucumber and/or shitake), and “soba” (cold buckwheat noodles). Leaves, flowers, leafstalks, and freshly sliced rhizomes are soaked in salt water and then mixed with sake (Japanese rice wine) lees to make a popular pickle called “wasabi-zuke” (FAC, TAD).
For more information on activities, dosages, and contraindications, see the CRC Handtopic of Medicinal Herbs, ed. 2,  et al. 2002.

Cultivation (Wasabi) —

This herbaceous perennial, to almost a foot and a half tall, is hardy to zone 8, according to Tucker and deBaggio (2000). Bown (2001) suggest zones 6-9 with temperatures of 10-15°C (50-59°F) in the growing season. Stream temperatures must be kept at 10-13°C (50-57°F) because at high temperatures the plants fail and diseases succeed. It tolerates 50-80% shade, slightly alkaline, organic soils, but is best grown rather like watercress, of the same family, in cool running water. Cool, spring-fed streams in limestone forest are best. Japanese artificially widen stream beds with rock walls and elaborate terraces especially for wasabi production. In Japan, propagated from two-year-old rhizome offsets, transplanted in spring, these will soon form large clumps with clusters of heart shaped leaves. Offsets are spaced about 10 x 18 in (25 x 45 cm). Nitrogen-rich organic fertilizers are applied in November and March. Plants are usually harvested in June in Japan, digging the plants, separating offshoots for next year’s plantings, and washing the rhizomes and removing the leaves. Yields may attain 2 tons/a to 4.5 MT/ha (TAD).

Chemistry (Wasabi) —

Morimitsu et al. (2002) found that wasabi is the richest source of 6-methyl-sulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate (6-HITC), an analogue of sulforaphane (4-methylsulfinylbutyl isothiocy-anate) isolated from broccoli, as the major GST-Inducer in wasabi. 6-HITC is a potential activator of novel detoxification pathways (11706044). Here are a few of the more notable chemicals found in wasabi. For a complete listing of the phytochemicals and their activities, see the CRC phytochemical compendium,  and , 1993 (DAD) and the USDA database.
Allyl-isothiocyanate — Antiasthmic; Anticancer; Antifeedant; Antimutagenic; Antiseptic; Counter-irritant; Decongestant; Embryotoxic; Fungicide MIC = 1.8-3.5 ng/ml; Herbicide IC100 = 0.4 mM; Insectiphile; Mutagenic; Nematiovistat 50 ng/ml; Spice FEMA 1-80 ppm; LD50 = 339 orl rat.
6-Methylsulfinylhexyl-isothiocyanate — Anticarcinomic; Antitumor.
4-Pentenyl-isothiocyante — Antimutagenic.

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