Beetroot is one of the most versatile vegetables you can find – gone are the days of sharp, pickled beetroot, the stuff that most of us remember being given at tea-time as children!
You can add it to so many dishes and it makes cakes wonderfully moist – one of our colleagues made an amazing chocolate and beetroot cake a few months ago and we’re still talking about it! Searching for ‘beetroot recipes’ online will bring up pages and pages of delicious treats, including brownies, wine, curry, houmous, chutney, relish, risotto… the list just goes on and on.
The health benefits are seemingly never-ending too. It’s high in nitrates, which produce nitric oxide in the blood, which in turn increase blood flow to the brain, reducing the risk of heart attack and slowing the progression of dementia. It reduces blood pressure, is high in folic acid and iron and several other minerals. (It’s worth noting that raw beetroot has higher levels of folic acid than cooked). Folic acid may also protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
It was used in Roman times as an aphrodisiac and for medicinal purposes, such as using the leaves to bind wounds. The Victorians added it to cakes and puddings to sweeten them. Then, after WWII, pickled beetroot was the most widely available form of the wonder-veg, but the strong vinegar used generally put most people off!
You can also use it as a dandruff treatment, wine, food colouring, a hangover cure and the Victorians even used it as a hair dye.
Beetroot comes in many colours – not just the traditional red, but also golden yellow, white and striped. You can also choose from the original long rooted varieties or the more well-known round ones. It’s really easy to grow, just make sure you choose a sunny spot, as the sun sweetens the roots and gives them their distinctive flavour.
Now is the perfect time to start sowing beetroot – prepare the ground well by raking it until it’s fine and crumbly (known as ’tilth’), then sow the seeds thinly. If necessary, thin them out when they germinate to give the roots more space to grow. You can add the ‘thinnings’ to salads and the baby leaves are delicious too. Keep them well watered – don’t let the soil dry out, otherwise they’ll bolt (run to seed). They’ll be ready to harvest from June to October and, if you’ve got the space, successional sowings from March to July will keep you in good supply throughout the summer and into autumn. Just make sure you lift any remaining roots before the first frosts.