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Beware the curse of beetroot!

Battered beetroot

I’d never grown (or eaten raw) beetroot before, but I fell for the five-variety Rainbow Beet seed collection. Pretty – but beware.

I picked five small roots and sliced them, tossing them in a light dressing. I didn’t get halfway through the bowl before I had to stop. The back of my throat felt as if it was stripped bare; I started to cough and my taste buds seem to make everything taste like varnish – and my wee was deep purple.

Thank goodness for the internet. It’s called beeturia, a harmless side effect of drinking/eating lots of beetroot or juice, caused by betalain pigment secretions. The effects most apparent in those with low stomach acid.

Growing beetroot primarily for the leaves

As for the throat, many people report this, plus a tightening of the vocal cords – very little about the taste buds though!

Other side effects can be slight flu-like symptoms, rashes and an, er, ‘cleansing’ effect on the digestive system. People with kidney stones shouldn’t eat beetroot because of the high oxalate content.

Enough of the bad stuff – beetroot (in moderation) can lower blood pressure better than some prescription medications; it has anti-inflammatory properties and discourages blood clot formation; the compound betacyanin can help fight cancer, improving cell respiration and stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells.

It’s high in fibre, low in calories and rich in folate, potassium, manganese, iron and many vitamins and minerals.

My advice – if you want to include it in your diet, add a small amount to beetroot juice to a fruit/veg mixture – and double check with your GP. It’s powerful stuff…

2-4-1 beetroot crop bonanza

Got to love monster veg from the Harrogate Autumn Show

Beetroot is easy to grow – direct sow in spring or in modules to be planted out. Don’t forget both the leaves and roots can be eaten – those little leaves with red veins in expensive salad mixes are from purple beet.

It will grow in any well-drained soil but requires fertile conditions – add compost or organic matter, plus a general purpose fertiliser before sowing.

Water every 10-14 days. If plants are not growing well, apply high nitrogen fertiliser, such as sulphate of ammonia.

Stress, caused by cold or drought, results in bolting – the plants flowering and setting seed. Sow resistant varieties, such as Boltardy.

Pull up alternate plants at golf ball size, leaving the others to reach the size of a cricket ball.

potted-guide-logoPotted guide: beetroot

  •  SOWING TIME: March-July outdoors; February-March in modules under glass.
  •  HARVESTING TIME: June-October.
  •  PLANTING DISTANCE: Thin seedlings to 10cm (4″) apart.
  •  ASPECT AND SOIL: Full sun, light, well-drained.
  • HARDINESS: Very hardy.
  • RECOMMENDED VARIETIES: Subeto (purple/red); Chioggia (red/white skin, pink/white rings inside); Boldor (yellow); Albina Vereduna (white); Boltardy (purple); Alto (purple, long roots); Burpee’s Golden (yellow); Kahira (Egyptian heritage flat-rooted).