Beta vulgaris / Biet

Beetroots vlgs Mrs Grieve A Modern Herbal

Family: N.O. Chenopodiaceae

---Synonyms---Spinach Beet. Sea Beet. Garden Beet. White Beet. Mangel Wurzel.

---Parts Used---Leaves, root.

---Description---Beta vulgaris (Linn.) is a native of South Europe, extensively cultivated as an article of food and especially for the production of sugar, and presents many varieties.

It is derived from the Sea Beet (B. maritima, Linn.), which grows wild on the coasts of Europe, North Africa and Asia, as far as India, and is found in muddy maritime marshes in many parts of England, a tall, succulent plant, about 2 feet high, with large, fleshy, glossy leaves, angular stems and numerous leafy spikes of green flowers, much like those of the Stinking Goosefoot.

The lower leaves, when boiled, are quite equal in taste to Spinach, and the leaf-stalks and midrib of a cultivated form, the Spinach Beet (B. vulgaris, var. cicla), are sometimes stewed, under the name of Swiss Chard (being the Poirée à Carde of the French, with whom it is served as Sea Kale or Asparagus). This white-rooted Beet is also cultivated for its leaves, which are put into soups, or used as spinach, and in France are often mixed with sorrel, to lessen its acidity. It is also largely used as a decorative plant for its large handsome leaves, blood red or variegated in colour. Its root, thoughcontaining almost as much sugar as the red Garden Beet, neither looks so appetizing nor tastes so well.

The Mangel Wurzel, or Mangold, also a variety of the Beet, too coarse for table use, is good for cattle, who thrive excellently upon this diet, both its leaves and roots affording an abundance of valuable and nutritious food.

In its uncultivated form, the root of the Sea Beet is coarse and unfit for food, nor has any use been made of the plant medicinally, but the Garden Beet has been cultivated from very remote times as a salad plant and for general use as a vegetable. It was so appreciated by the ancients, that it is recorded that it was offered on silver to Apollo in his temple at Delphi.

---Constituents---The root contains about a tenth portion of pure sugar, which is one of the glucoses or fruit sugars and is very wholesome. It is softer than cane sugar and does not crystallize as well as the latter. There is a treacle principle in it, but this renders it all the more nutritious. Canesugar has to be converted by the digestive juices into fruit sugar, before the body can absorb it, but the sugar present in the Beetroot is already in the more easily assimilated form, thus making the Beet a valuable food. Its sugar is a force-giver and an energy creator, a source of vitality to the human body. Besides its tenth portion of pure sugar, Beetroot has as much as a third of its weight in starch and gum.

The Beet makes an appetizing vegetable, plain boiled, stewed, or baked and a good pickle, and in Russia forms an appetizing soup - called Bortsch - the red root in this case being made to exude all its juice into a rich, white stock.

A pleasant wine can be made from the roots and an equally good domestic ale has also been brewed from Mangolds. A considerable amount of alcohol can be obtained by distillation.

Although modern medicine disregards the Beet, of old it was considered to have distinct remedial properties.

---Medicinal Action and Uses---The juice of the White Beet was stated to be 'of a cleansing, digestive quality,' to open obstructions of the liver and spleen, and, says Culpepper, 'good for the headache and swimmings therein and all affections of the brain.' Also,

'effectual against all venomous creatures and applied upon the temples, it stayeth inflammations in the eyes, it helpeth burnings, being used without oil and with a little alum put to it is good for St. Anthonys Fire. It is good for all weals, pushes, blisters and blains in the skin: the decoction in water and vinegar healeth the itch if bathed therewith and cleanseth the head of dandriff, scurf and dry scabs and relieves running sores and ulcers and is much commended against baldness and shedding the hair.'

The juice of the Red Beetroot was recommended 'to stay the bloody flux' and 'to help the yellow jaundice,' also the juice 'put into the nostrils, purgeth the head, helpeth the noise in the ears and the toothache.'

The Sugar Beet, or White Beet, is a selected form of the ordinary red-rooted Garden Beet and is now the chief source of our sugar; as food for animals, it has been preferred to turnips and carrots.

About 1760, the Berlin apothecary Marggraff obtained in his laboratory by means of alcohol, 6.2 per cent. of sugar from a white variety of Beet and 4.5 per cent. from a red variety. At the present day, as a result of careful study of many years, improvement of cultivation, careful selection of seed and suitable manuring, especially with nitrate of soda, the average Beet worked up contains 7 per cent. of fibre and 92 per cent. of juice. The average yield of its weight in sugar was stated in 1910 to be 12.79 per cent. in Germany and 11.6 per cent. in France.

In Great Britain, the cultivation of Beet for sugar was first seriously undertaken in Essex in 1910, as the result of careful consideration during several years and since the War. The Beet Sugar Industry, aided by Government subsidy, can now be regarded as on a permanent basis. In 1926-7, no less than fourteen factories were handling the Beet crops, mostly in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, producing large quantities of white refined sugar.

Beets (Beta vulgaris, Chenopodiaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

The garden, or sugar, beet (Beta vulgaris, Chenopodiaceae) is an annual vegetable which forms a dense cluster of dark green leaves attached to a large, bulbous root.1 Both greens (aerial parts) and roots are edible. Beets typically are grown in the spring and fall; they thrive in cool seasons. In warmer climates, beets are grown in the winter as well. The leaves can grow up to 18 inches tall, though they are best harvested at two to three inches. The plant produces red-tinged green flowers. Though red beetroots are most commonly available commercially, golden and “candy cane” red and white roots also exist. The United States, France, Poland, Germany, and Russia currently are the leading producers of beets.2

Selective breeding has produced several different varietals of Beta vulgaris, including sugar beet (used for sugar extraction), mangel-wurzel (used as livestock fodder), and Swiss chard (B. vulgaris subsp. cicla).1 Current research suggests that these varietals may help post-exercise muscle recovery, improve blood pressure, and combat dyslipidemia.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Beets are nutritionally diverse, low in calories, cholesterol-free, and fat-free. Beet greens also are edible and contain calcium, vitamin A and carotenoids, vitamin C, and iron. 100 grams of beet greens contain 50% of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin C.2 Beetroots are a good source of folic acid, fiber, potassium, and manganese.3 They are also rich in niacin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, iron, copper, magnesium, and manganese.

Like carrots, the color of beetroots indicates the different nutrient compounds contained within. Red beets contain phytochemicals called betalains*, which can also be found in Swiss chard, rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum, R. rhaponticum, Polygonaceae), and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica, Cactaceae).4 Betanin, one of the most-studied betalains, has been shown to provide anti-inflammatory support in vitro and in animal models. Red beets contain 300-600 mg/kg of betanin, which gives this variety its signature ruby-red color. This is slightly unusual, since most red-colored foods owe their pigmentation to anthocyanins, another prevalent group of compounds with antioxidant actions. However, betanin has exceptionally high antioxidant activity, exhibiting 1.5-2 times more activity than its anthocyanin counterparts.

Golden, or yellow, beetroots have greater concentrations of lutein than red beets. In the human body, lutein is found in high concentrations in the retina of the eye, and may help protect the eye from abnormal light sensitivity and degenerative diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Beet greens contain higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, a similar carotenoid that also promotes healthy vision.

Historical and Commercial Uses

Beets were first cultivated in the Mediterranean region and have a history of use that dates back over 4,000 years.5 Modern cultivated beets are descendants from a wild plant called the sea beet (B. vulgaris subsp. maritima), which grew wild in North Africa and on the Mediterranean coast.1 Initially, humans consumed only the greens, and the root was used for medicinal purposes or animal fodder.

Greek and Roman authors, including Theophrastus (3rd century BCE), Hippocrates (4th century BCE), Dioscorides (1st century CE), and Pliny the Elder (1st century CE), noted a wide variety of ailments they claimed could be cured or prevented by beetroot and greens consumption.6 The primary medicinal use of the beet was to detoxify the blood and cleanse the kidneys, liver, bowel, and gallbladder. Beets also were believed to contain aphrodisiac qualities, and carvings of beets were found on excavated frescoes from Greek brothels.7 Other conditions thought to be treated using beets included leprosy, wounds and skin disorders, dandruff, digestive issues, and earaches.6

Trade throughout Europe spread the growth of beets beyond the Mediterranean area, and the roots eventually evolved into the sweeter, more edible modern plant.4 The popularity of beets increased around the 16th century due to this careful cultivation. The high sugar content of the root made beets a significant economic crop in Europe in the 19th century as an alternative sweetener in the place of sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum, Poaceae). Currently, about 20-30% of the world’s sugar production comes from sugar beets.7

Today, the root and greens are consumed as a food product.8 The root can be prepared by boiling, roasting, baking, or pickling. Raw roots often are added to salads and soups. The greens can be prepared as any other bitter green, such as collard greens (Brassica oleracea, var. acephala, Brassicaceae). Beet juice and extract also are used as natural alternatives to red food dye and in various cosmetic products.9

Modern Research

Current research shows that supplementation with beet juice has been shown to play a role in human exercise tolerance and recovery. One human study concluded that beet juice supplementation reduced the negative effects associated with muscle hypoxia after exercise.10 Muscle hypoxia occurs when adequate oxygen is not available for normal muscle activity. This impairs exercise tolerance and energy production from muscles. Another clinical trial reported that supplementation of beetroot juice for three days prior to strenuous exercise reduced the amount of oxygen spent and increased exercise endurance by reducing the time of muscle failure onset.11 This effect remained true during moderate exercise as well.

Beets can affect blood pressure and dyslipidemia (a high level of cholesterol, triglycerides, or both in the blood), due to their high nitrate concentration. Dietary nitrates are converted to nitrites, which are known vasodilators (compounds which cause blood vessels to expand), in the body upon ingestion. Consumption of beet juice thus increases the concentration of plasma nitrites in the blood, which decreases blood pressure in healthy adults. When studying this effect, scientists also concluded that beet juice is protective against endothelial (related to the inner lining of arteries) damage, finding a decrease in systolic blood pressure by 6 mmHg after supplementation with beetroot juice.12

The nitrates in beets also aid in smooth muscle relaxation, further adding to its value as an exercise supplement.2 Professional and amateur athletes are increasingly adding beetroot juice to their exercise regimen, claiming an increase in stamina and decision-making speed following a promising 2015 study.13 Researchers concluded that after a week of supplementation with beet juice, healthy male subjects showed increased reaction time and athletic performance during a sprinting exercise.14

Another study showed a significant decrease in blood pressure, with a change of 10.4 mmHg systolic and 8 mmHg diastolic measurements, due to the high nitrate concentration in beets. This study also suggested that beets can prevent endothelial dysfunction and inhibit platelet aggregation. These effects were attributed to the ingestion of nitrates that are converted to nitrites and then reduced to nitric oxide in the stomach.15 Supplementation of beetroot, combined with hawthorn (Crataegus spp, Rosaceae) berry, increased plasma nitrate and nitrite concentrations, and significantly reduced triglyceride levels in 72% of participants with elevated triglycerides.16

Health Considerations

Eating a moderate amount of red beetroots or products colored with red beet extract may cause some individuals to experience a temporary reddening of the urine.4 This is known as “beeturia” and is not harmful. However, it may also be an indication of abnormal iron levels in the body or of a problem with iron metabolism, as those with these pre-existing conditions are more likely to experience “beeturia.”

Both root and greens of beets contain a high amount of oxalates, which may exacerbate conditions such as kidney stones. However, since beets also contain a high ratio of minerals to oxalates, the amount of bioavailability may be lower than foods with similar oxalic contents.17,18

* Betalains were first named as a unique set of pigments in 1968 by Andre Dreiding and the late Professor Tom J. Mabry, PhD, of the Department of Botany at the University of Texas at Austin. A world-renowned phytochemist and scholar, Mabry passed away in November 2015. Among his many academic distinctions and memberships, he was a former member of the ABC Advisory Board.

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 100g [approx. 3/4 cup] raw beetroot)

43 calories

1.61 g protein

9.56 g carbohydrate

0.17 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 100g [approx. 3/4 cup] raw beetroot)

Excellent source of:

Folate: 109 mcg (27.25% DV)

Very good source of:

Manganese: 0.32 mg (16% DV)

Dietary Fiber: 2.8 g (11.2% DV)

Good source of:

Potassium: 325 mg (9.3% DV)

Vitamin C: 4.9 mg (8.17% DV)

Magnesium: 23 mg (5.75% DV)

Also provides:

Iron: 0.8 mg (4.44% DV)

Phosphorus: 40 mg (4% DV)

Vitamin B6: 0.07 mg (3.5% DV)

Riboflavin: 0.04 mg (2.35% DV)

Zinc: 0.35 mg (2.33% DV)

Thiamin: 0.03 mg (2% DV)

Niacin: 0.33 mg (1.65% DV)

Calcium: 16 mg (1.6% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.