Beetroot and Health

2000 years ago, the Romans didn’t terrify themselves by Googling their symptoms when feeling icky.

When the soldiers went off to battle, they were given borage, the herb of courage, along with other herbs and natural feel-good stuff. And when it was time to have some fun, beetroots came to their aide.

The evidence of beetroots pictured on Roman walls would have been baffling if we didn’t know, now, that beetroot has a high ‘boron’ content. Boron has been proved to affect – in good ways – the hormonal system. Oh those guys!

So, time to re-balance those wayward hormones… 🙂

Beetroot is one of the easiest crops to grow in a moderate climate and the roots can be stored through pickling and made into all manner of delicious meals.

The following text has been unashamedly snitched from ‘Growing Winter Food’.

BEETROOT

Beetroots have been cultivated for many years although before the 17th century they were grown mainly for the leaves in the kitchen garden and the roots were grown specifically for medicinal preparations. Beetroot was considered to be an effective aphrodisiac. It contains the element ‘boron’, which has since been scientifically proved to have an effect on hormones.

The round purple/red root we eat today is just as nutritious, if not more so than the leaves. If you like the idea of using beetroot leaves in place of spinach or other greens, grow a line just for the foliage and another line for the roots.

It appears that beetroot was originally a seaside plant found over large coastal areas in Europe and Asia. The plant is well adapted to the vegetable garden and is probably one of the easier crops to grow in your garden.

Seed:

When you buy your seeds, make sure you know what you’re buying! Some beetroot seeds will be better for foliage than the roots. Try both if you have the space, or for root crops, select a good cropping everyday beetroot to start with.

If you can’t find a variety specifically for the foliage, grow a small line of any beetroot seed and use some of the plants for leaves and leave the rest to develop roots. When you remove leaves regularly the plant will produce more leaf and won’t put energy into developing the root.

The seeds are ‘multiple’ and will need thinning out later on, however thinly you sow them.

It may be possible to sow the seed in individual bio-degradable pots, but generally all root crops are better sown directly outside in the vegetable patch. If you transplant them, they tend to fork or split and won’t develop into healthy roots. If you do try using bio-degradable pots, remove the weaker seedlings to leave one in each pot as soon as they are large enough to handle. Soak the soil in water first so you don’t dislodge the plants you are leaving to leave to grow on. Firm the soil gently round the plants after thinning and water.

Planting:

Prepare your soil first. Beetroot doesn’t like an acid soil, so check your ph first if you aren’t sure. Add lime or any other organic material to re-balance the soil if necessary a month or so before sowing the seed.

Choose a sunny well-drained spot in the garden and dig over to a good depth. The cleaner and more prepared your soil, the better root crops develop. Remove any perennial weeds, large stones and non-organic debris and then rake over the surface to a fine consistency for your seeds.

Seed should be sown after all danger of a frost has passed. With a raised bed system and a plastic cloche type covering, you could start them a little earlier, but the seed won’t germinate well if it’s cold or doesn’t have enough light. Sow seed thinly in shallow drills, preferably positioning one seed cluster every few inches or so, leaving about 12 inches between rows. Cover with soil. Check on the manufacturer’s growing recommendations on your seed packet before you start for variety and regional variations.

Water gently after sowing and keep soil watered regularly in dry weather. Remove any weeds as they appear.

After a few weeks, your seedlings will need thinning out. Choose a wet day, or soak the ground first with water. Gently remove weaker seedlings leaving 4-6 inches of growing room for each plant. Again double check on your seed packet for spacing advice.

Firm the soil gently round the plants left in the ground. Water again if needed.

Keep beetroot plants healthy by watering regularly in dry weather and making sure they are weed-free.

They are a hardy root crop and fairly resistant to bugs and disease. Although all young plants will need protection against slug and snail attacks.

Harvesting:

The roots can be pulled and eaten as soon as they are golf ball sized. Make sure they are all collected before the first frost in the autumn or winter unless you have found a frost resistant variety. Try not to leave them too long as they can become woody and lose some of their flavour. Collect when they are quite small if you intend to pickle them.

Use a fork to gently loosen the soil around each beetroot before you lift it to prevent any damage. Remove the leaves by twisting them rather than cutting through the root.

Leaves should be collected regularly but never strip one plant of all its leaves. Take a few from each and the plants will stay healthy and cropping for longer in the season.

Storing:

Beetroot is generally stored in the form of pickled beetroot or it could be simply bottled as you would bottle any other vegetable. Bottling requires special equipment, but pickling can be done with just a large pan and some jars.
The roots can also be stored in the fridge for a week or so, or in a dark cool place for a few weeks. Keep an eye on them because they don’t tend to store as well as other roots. They could also be stored in a vegetable clamp if you are using this method to store root crops.

Vitamins:

Beetroots are high in dietary fibre, folate and vitamin C. The dark pigment actively helps fight free radicals in the body. Beetroots have been consumed in soup form for many years and are believed to be the secret ingredient to longevity.

Beetroot is packed with minerals and vitamins and all in all an excellent vegetable to include in a healthy diet. The high natural sugar levels make it one of the more sweeter tasting root vegetables, with an earthy after-taste. Delicious and nutritious and well worth including in the vegetable garden.

Happy Gardening!

Linda x

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