There are two types of toothwort in our area, Broad-leaved (Dentaria diphylla) and Cut-leaved (D. laciniata.). They are also called "Pepper-root" and are both in the Brassicaceae family, like horseradish. They enjoy rich, moist soils on the forest floor. Their flowers are spring ephemerals, their leaves barely persist into the summer, and their roots are present year round. You must know where a good patch is in order to find them after the leaves die back. Rooting around under the leaves in such spots reveals shallow rhizomes that are have a very peppery tang. These are larger and longer in the Broad-leaved and I have yet to experiment with Cut-leaved variety. The Broad-leaved are prolific around the northern sap collection tank in our sugarbush, so I can pretty much rake around anywhere and find them.
Rinsing them is straightforward and requires little effort. Dirt doesn't seem to cling to them too much.
Then they are broken up by hand into sections large enough to put into a small food processor and pureed with a little water and white wine vinegar until the consistency of store-bought jars of horseradish. I didn't know what this looked like so I looked at some on my beer-run to the grocers. Now it is ready to use as a wild and free substitute for anything calling for horseradish. It can be scooped into sterilized jars and kept in the refrigerator for a month or more.
Wild Pepper-root Sauce
3 tbsp prepared pepper-root (see above)
2 tbsp sour cream
3 tbsp mayonnaise
cracked pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne
Simply combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir together. The toothwort (pepper-root) is milder and a tad sweeter than horseradish, so you can up the toothwort to taste as well as the cayenne pepper.