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A member of the amaranth family, beta vulgaris is a root vegetable known as the beet. Beets are typically cultivated for culinary use. The vegetables are considered useful in a number of homeopathic herbal remedies. They can also be grown for decorative purposes.
Traditional folk medicine has made use of beta vulgaris in many ways. The vegetable was used in treating constipation, wounds, and fevers in ancient Roman history. Beetroot juice was sometimes used as an aphrodisiac. Digestive and blood illnesses have also been treated with the root vegetable.
Europeans have used beta vulgaris to protect their bodies against oxidative stress. This use, however, has not been definitively proven in medical studies. As a food, beta vulgaris may prove useful in fighting cancer, protecting against heart disease, and preventing birth defects.
Depending on the variety, beets can be red or purple in color. They are typically bulbous and round, with a thin root protruding from the bottom. The top of a beet is a thin, cord-like strip of stem topped with heart-shaped green leaves. Some stems can be red while others may be yellow, white, purple, or pink.
The flowers of the beet plant grow in thick, small spikes. Each flower has five petals that are green or red in color. Beets, which are wind-pollinated vegetables, also produce fruits in the form of hard nutlets. Herbaceous biennial plants, beets can grow up to six feet (two meters) in height.
Beta vulgaris is also known as the garden beet or beetroot. Other common varieties of beets include sugar beet, chard, mangelwurzel, and spinach beet. Sugar beets are used in the production of table sugar, while mangelwurzel is a common crop fodder. The other two types are vegetables used in cooking. Garden beets are a popular food of Europe in particular.
Swiss chard is typically eaten boiled, though the plant can also be steamed, stir-fried, or eaten raw in salads. Borscht, a soup made from beets and other vegetables, is a popular recipe in Russia and Eastern Europe. In the American South, pickled beets are a common food. Beets can also be shredded or used as condiments.
One serving of raw beets is approximately three and one-half ounces (100 grams), or two beets. Beets are a low-calorie food, with one serving containing 44 calories. A full serving also contains over half an ounce (two grams) of fiber. Beets also contain small amounts of calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, copper, folate, phosphorus, and iron.
@croydon - Actually I've always wanted to grow sugar beets but I've never tried.
Sugar beets is one of the main ways people made sugar back before sugar cane and corn syrup became so easy to come by.
I've always liked the idea of sugar beet sugar as it's supposed to be more nutritious than either of those two options, and it doesn't come from an exploited developing country, plus it's one of the only ways of growing a sweetener in a temperate climate without maple trees or a beehive.
But you need to grow quite a fair amount of beets for it to be worthwhile harvesting them for sugar and I've never had the time and area to do it.
Maybe I should try growing beetroot though, as it seems like it might be more worthwhile for a smallholder.
@KoiwiGal - It's actually quite common in some countries to serve a slice of pickled beetroot in a hamburger or a sandwich.
It doesn't sound appealing to people who aren't used to it, but it's actually quite delicious as it adds a bit of sweetness to the meal that goes well with the rest.
I've never tried growing beta vulgaris in my garden but it's supposed to be quite hardy and as you say, it's quite versatile when it comes to eating it.
I think I would try for a big crop and then pickle them for use in the rest of the year. I've heard it's quite easy to pickle them, just cook them and then dose them in vinegar
for a couple of weeks (although you might want to add some other ingredients as well... look up a recipe online).
Then they last for ages in a bottle. Well, at least they last as long as they aren't eaten.
My stepfather has beets with almost every meal. He just opens a jar of them and has a couple of slices on his plate without cooking them or anything. I assume they are pickled beets.
I never used to like them, but since they were there and I know they're supposed to be very healthy for you, I have been trying them and they actually make quite a good accompaniment to things like salads and roasts and so forth.
I also used to quite like the way they served them at my favorite cafe.
Whenever you ordered anything that came with a salad they would top it with long, curly strands of raw beetroot, which was quite sweet and tasty, and also looked quite spectacular as well.
I've never actually tried doing that myself, but I should the next time I have guests over and serve up something appropriate. I think they'd be fairly impressed.