Beetroot (beta vulgaris)

Beetroot Why plant

Easy to grow and store.

Important health giving properties.

All parts can be eaten.

Interesting uses

One of the earliest known benefits of beetroot is its use as an aphrodisiac during the Roman times. And it wasn’t all folklore as it has been found to contain high amounts of boron, which is directly related to the production of human sex hormones.

Beetroot contains betaine, a substance that relaxes the mind and is used in other forms to treat depression. It also contains trytophan which is also found in chocolate and contributes to a sense of well being.

You can use beetroot juice to measure acidity. When added to an acidic solution it turns pink but when it’s added to an alkali it turns yellow.

If you boil beetroots in water and then massage the water into your scalp each night, it works as an effective cure for dandruff.

Beetroot can be made into a wine that tastes similar to port .


The origin is wild seabeet, a native of coastlines from India to Britain and the ancestor of all cultivated forms of beet. Sea beet was first domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, although it was only the leaves that were eaten at that time.

The ancient Romans were one of the first civilizations to cultivate beets to use their roots as food. The tribes that invaded Rome were responsible for spreading beets throughout northern Europe where they were first used for animal fodder and later for human consumption, becoming more popular in the 16th century.

In early times, the medicinal properties of the root were more important than its eating qualities and it was used to treat a range of ailments including fevers, constipation, wounds and various skin problems. At that time, the roots were long and thin like a carrot. The rounded root shape that we are familiar with today was not developed until the sixteenth century and became widely popular in Central and Eastern Europe 200 years later. Many classic beetroot dishes originated in this region including the famous beetroot soup, known as borscht.

Beets' value grew in the 19th century when it was discovered they were a concentrated source of sugar and the first sugar factory was built in Poland. When access to sugar cane was restricted by the British, Napoleon decreed that the beet be used as the primary source of sugar, catalyzing its popularity. Around this time beets were also first brought to the United States, where they now flourish. Today the leading commercial producers of beets include the United States, the Russian Federation, France, Poland, France and Germany.

Health benefits

Beetroot is one of the newest ‘super foods’ to hit the headlines. Packed full of nutrients, it provides a rich source of carbohydrates, protein, and has high levels of important vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. Just three baby beetroot equal one of the five portions of fruit and vegetables that The Food Standards Agency recommends eating a day.

It is a great source of potassium, magnesium, folic acid, iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, niacin, biotin, betaninBeetroot nutrients and beta-carotene. It also contains the important vitamins A, B6 and C, plus powerful antioxidants and soluble fibre.

Beetroot is one of the richest sources of folic acid, something that is essential for normal tissue growth. It can protect against high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Folic acid is crucial to the development of a baby’s spinal cord during the first three months of pregnancy and can help prevent spinal cord defects such as spina bifida. Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive can get 75% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of folate from three raw baby beets. Expectant mums must remember though that cooked beetroot has lower levels of folic acid than raw beetroot.

Research has shown that beetroot can help lower blood pressure. Because it contains the mineral silica it helps the body to utilise calcium, so is therefore important for musculo-skeletal health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

The pigment that gives beets their rich, purple crimson colour betacyanin, is also a powerful cancer-fighting agent. Beets' potential effectiveness against colon cancer in particular has been demonstrated in several studies.


Chioggia is easy and fast to grow but not so suitable for boiling as the colour leaches out.

Bolthardy is globe shaped and resistant to bolting.

Burpee’s Golden produces globe shaped, golden coloured beetroot. It seems to be more difficult to germinate and not as prolific as the others. Remember to cook it separately from other varieties to retain the yellow colour.


Although preferring medium to light soil, beetroot can cope with heavy soil as well. What should be avoided is planting in recently manured soil, unless you like misshapen roots!

Plant a small amount of seeds every fortnight from mid April (or when the risk of hard frost has passed) through to mid July in rows about 2.5cm (1 inch) deep and 30cm (1 foot) apart, plant the seeds 5cm (2 inches) apart in each row. Cover with soil and water in.

The seedlings will take about two weeks to appear. If you have a clump of seedlings growing remove the weakest leaving the strongest seedling. Once about 5cm (2 inches) high you can thin or replant to their final positions of 10cm (4 inches) apart for round varieties, 15cm (6 inches) apart for long varieties.


Young seedlings may attract the attention of birds. If your area is troubled it’s best to cover the seedlings in netting for a while. Clear plastic plastic bottles with the top and bottom cut off and placed over the seedlings when they emerge is a good method if you plant only a few seeds.

Beetroot will definitely appreciate a thorough watering if the conditions become dry. This will encourage them to grow quickly and the roots will be more tender and tasty.


Harvesting of globe beetroot can begin around nine weeks after sowing the seed. At this stage the bulbs will be about 2.5cm (1 inch) in diameter and they will be at their most tender, important for salads. These first pickings should be evenly applied over the growing area to give the remaining beetroot good room to grow larger.

Continue to harvest as required until the beetroot reach about 8cm (3 inches) in diameter. At this point it’s best to harvest all the beetroot and store them. If they’re left in the ground much longer they’ll become woody and not taste so good. Another sign that the roots are ready for harvest is when the foliage starts to go limp.

When harvesting beetroot, especially if they will not be eaten immediately, cut the leaves off about 5cm (2 inches) above the root. This will keep them fresh longer and prevent them from 'bleeding'. Use a trowel to dig gently under the bulb and gently tease it away from the soil. Avoid damaging the root in order to keep them fresh for long time.

Store the beetroot in boxes with layers separated by sand or peat in a cool dark place such as the garage or shed. They must be kept free of all but a very light frost.


Creamy beetroot risotto

Honey roast beetroot

Beetroot shots with tarragon yogurt ice cubes

Balsamic beetroot with roquefort

Beetroot, horseradish and crème fraiche dip

Common problems

Beetroot are generally problem free.

This post has been submitted to the Spring 2011 competition of 'How to Find Great Plants' on Appalachian Feet

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