Beetroot (Beta vulgaris)

 When you think of beet you normally think of the root, in fact it is a plant often referred to as “beetroot". However, beets are a member of the same Family as Swiss chard and like chard the leaves are perfectly edible and a healthy option. Attached to the beet leaves is a round or oblong root, which is typically a reddish- purple color due to the health promoting pigments but beets do also come in varieties that Feature white or yellow roots.

 The Romans were (Tie first to cultivate beet but it was 2000years before this vegetable became really popular. Early in the 19th century it was discovered that they were a concentrated source of sugar (the sweet taste should have been a give-away really) and the first sugar factory was built in Poland. Then when access to sugar cane was restricted by the British, Napoleon decreed that the beet be used as the primary source of sugar, instigating its popularity. While beet does contain sugars it also contains a range of health promoting substances that make it a very useful, as well as tasty, addition to your garden.

Your Healing Beetroot
Beet leaves are highly nutritive and are high in calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Beetroot has a long history as a cleansing and purifying food for the blood, liver, gallbladder and digestion. It is an excellent source of betaine which helps keep bile flowing. Beet root is also an excellent source of soluble fiber and antioxidants. In recent times a lot of research on beetroot has centered around the fact that it is a good source of nitrate.

Reduce Blood Pressure

A study on beetroot juice (published in the journal Hypertension) compared people with high blood pressure who drank 250ml of beetroot juice to those who took nitrate tablets. The researchers found that within 2A hours both groups had significant reductions in blood pressure. This suggests that it is the nitrate in beetroot juice that is producing the blood pressure lowering effect. Nitrate increases the levels of the gas nitric oxide in circulation and this in turn keeps blood vessels open (dilates them) which reduces blood pressure. The fact that only 250ml of the juice is needed to achieve the effect suggests that beetroot juice can be a first step natural approach to lowering blood pressure.

Anti-ageing Effects on the Brain
Loss of mental function as you age is one of the great fears for many people. So the news that a humble vegetable juice might help support your brain will be welcomed by many. In a study published in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Biochemistry researchers asked subjects to fast for 10 hours and then report to the lab for breakfast. The subjects were then given one of two breakfasts. One of those breakfasts included 450ml of beetroot juice. All subjects were then sent home with lunch, dinner and snacks. On the following day, after another 10-hour fast, the subjects returned to the lab and ate the same breakfast as the day before. Then one hour after the breakfast a magnetic resonance image (MRI) was used to track blood flow in the subjects’ brains. This process was repeated four days later with the subjects switching the type of breakfast that they consumed. The MRIs showed that after having the beetroot juice and the associated diet, there was an increase in blood Flow to white matter in the Frontal lobes of the brains. These are the areas of the brain associated with dementia and loss of other mental Functions. The reason that beetroot juice had this effect was again due to its high nitrate content. Celery, cabbage, and spinach are also excellent sources of nitrate. So starting your day with some home-made beetroot juice and following it up through the day with nitrate rich foods may be an excellent way to help you “beet” dementia.
Beetroot Boosts Exercise
As you age, if you have conditions that relate to the heart, blood vessels or lungs then the amount of oxygen that you take in during exercise drops significantly. That drop in oxygen capacity translates into less exercise and a spiral starts that can see you hardly exercising at all. This is where beetroot juice may help. In recent times there have been studies suggesting that athletes can exercise for up to 16 per cent longer when they take beetroot juice on a daily basis. This is again because of beefs nitrate content. In a study From the Journal of Applied Physiology the aim was to see whether non-athletes, people who undertake low-intensity exercise like walking, might also benefit from beetroot juice. To this end the researchers developed two beetroot drinks: one normal beetroot drink and another with the nitrate filtered out. Subjects then were given one of the two drinks on a daily basis and their ability to walk was measured. The results showed that those on the normal beetroot juice used less oxygen while walking. effectively reducing the effort that it took to walk by 12 per cent. No such effect occurred in the juice with the nitrate removed.
In other research done at the University of Exeter, researchers had competitive-level cyclists undertake two trial rides over 2.5 miles and 10 miles. All of the cyclists did each time trial twice. On one occasion they were given 500ml of beetroot juice to drink before the trial.
On the other occasion they were given 500ml of beetroot juice but this time the juice had had its nitrate removed. To ensure that the cyclists worked to their maximum on each occasion, the researchers monitored their V02 (volume of oxygen) which shows how much oxygen is being consumed and how close the cyclists were to maximum capacity. The results showed that cyclists who had beetroot juice with nitrate were on average 11 seconds Faster over the 2.5-mile
distance and 45 seconds faster over the 10-mile distance.
Given these actions to boost exercise combined with its antioxidant and liver protective effects, some daily beet consumption should make you ...well, hard to "beet”

Grow Your Beetroot

When to plant: Soak seeds, contained in a cork-like coating, overnight in water before sowing directly in the ground. Often all seeds  between one and up to four  germinate from the cluster, so thin these out and transplant when about 3-5cm tall. Sow seeds every few weeks for a successive harvest. Seeds germinate best when the temperature is 20°C. In cooler climates in the warmer months; or opt for cooler drier planting times in the tropics and subtropical areas
Climate: Grows in a range of climates; likes warm temperatures to do well.

Aspect/placement: Sunny well-drained position, but tolerates part shade.

Specific needs: Likes a well-drained organic soil. Nutrients including boron, manganese and potash help produce good beetroot, but too much nitrogen might cause excessive foliage. Keep the water up to plants, but too much and the roots tend to rot.

Companion planting: Onion.

Harvesting: Young leaves can be used in salads. Pull swollen root tuber from about 9 weeks or when they are 5-10 cm in diameter. Over-mature roots become stringy

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