By Hwaa Irfan
Known as sugar/common beet, Chard (U.S.), betterave sauvage (France), remolacha (Spanish), banjar (Middle East) records of cultivation of Beta vulgaris goes back as far as the 2nd millennium B.C. There is mention of them in Mesoptamia records of the 8th century BC. Its ancestor is the sea beet which is native to the Mediterranean coast. Fossils of beetroots have been found in the Saqqara pyramid in Egypt, and charred remains have been found in Aartswoud, The Netherlands a Neolithic archaeological site.
The modern beetroot according to records transpired in the middle of the 18th century in Prussia. It was in 1747 that sugar was first extracted from beetroot by Andreas Marggraf with the first factory specializing in sugar production from beetroot was established in Poland in 1801. This challenge was as a result of British blockade on sugar cane during the Napoleonic Wars. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, beet root gained commercial importance to 19th century Europe as an alternative to the tropical supply of sugar, sugar cane. It was in 1830 that sugar beet was introduced to North America with the first commercial production on a farm in Alvarado, California in 1879.
Beta vulgaris is a member of the Chenopodiaceae sub-family of the main family the Byrrhoidea plant kingdom. It is a biennial crop bearing leafy edible stems, which are cooked as greens. The leafy heart-shaped stems grow to a length of up to 20cm on the wild beta vulgaris, and much larger in the cultivated variety. Not so well known to the consumer are the spikey small green-red flowers that bear 5 petals. The main root is swollen fleshy. Yet fibrous, and is apparent when cooked that it is made up of layers.
Unfortunately as a result of evolution and modern agriculture, beetroot in some regions are dependent on boron to prevent the crop from rotting. The Food and Agricultural Organization note the toxicity of boron, which is reduced by sufficient irrigation and a good drainage system. Then there is the additional problem of GM beetroot!
One of the main bioactive ingredients of beta vulgaris is betanin which is distinguished on sight by its deep red color, as such it is used in the food industry as a colorant in foods such as tomato paste, sauces, desserts, jellies, ice cream, sweets, and breakfast cereals. Properties include:
- Betalains: Betanin, isobetanin, probetanin, neobetanin, and betacyanin (red-violet)
- Oxalic acid
- Betaxanthins: Indicaxanthin, vulgaxanthins (yellow-orange)
The therapeutic qualities include the following: (see It All Makes Good Scents for definitions)
- Anti-inflammatory (leaves)
- Aphrodisiac (seeds)
- Carminative (seeds)
- Diuretic (leaves, seeds)
- Purgative (leaves)
- Tonic (leaves)
In ancient Rome beetroots were used to treat fevers and constipation. Roman Apicius recommended three soup recipes involving beetroot as a laxative in his De re coquinaria. Hippocrates found the leaves of the beetroot using for binding wounds.
The bioactive constituent indicaxanthin has proven to be a powerful antioxidant in the treatment of the blood disorder Thalassemia. In addition, indicaxanthin is effective in the prevention of the breakdown of Vitamin E. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are active as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and as a purgative they detoxify the body.
In Ayurvedic medicine beetroot juice is recommended for liver and spleen malfunction, and beetroot as a tonic for the female reproductive system in young women.
The high oxalate content of the greens can be a problem for suffers of kidney or gallbladder problems
- Phosphorus (leaves)
- Iron (leaves)
- Vitamin A (leaves)
- Vitamin C (leaves)
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B₁₂
- Niacin (leaves)
- Thiamin (leaves)
- Pantothenic acid
- Folate (root, leaves)
- Zinc (root, leaves)
- Magnesium (root, leaves)
It was found that in a group of volunteers that after taking a single dose (500ml) of beetroot juice, that both the systolic and the diastolic blood pressure decreased being most effective 3 – 4 hours after consumption.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the taproot and the leaves are used to treat coughs, asthma, general debility, constipation, flatulence, amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea.
The bioactive constituent betacyanin may cause beeturia – red urine in some people who are unable to break it down.
When buying beetroot, the roots should be firm, the skin smooth, and the color deep. Indications of spoilage include bruising, spotting, or moisture. If the greens are attached they should look fresh and not be wilting. The green color of the leaves is vibrant and not dull. Beetroots should not be washed before storage. One has to be careful not to overcook beetroot as some of the beneficial properties are devalued. The group betalains are unstable in heat, and should not be cooked without the skin for longer than 15 minutes or roasted for longer than an hour.
For constipation, and piles, in Ayurvedic medicine it is recommended to take beetroot juice at bedtime, and an hour before breakfast. The bedoiun of the Middle East take the raw root and leaves to treat urinary tract infections.
In balance He gave us everything we needed, but as for what we want!
“Beta Vulgaris.” http://www.scientificweb.com/en/Biology/Plants/Magnoliophyta/BetaVulgaris01.html
Toxicity Problems.” http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/t0234e/T0234E05.htm