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Beetroot has a specific affinity for the blood, which is indicated in its bright red colouring

Beetroot

Beta vulgaris Amaranthaceae

Beetroot is a classic tonic for the blood with powerfully antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and an impressive nutritional profile.

  • How does it feel?

    Beetroot has an earthy yet sweet flavour profile. It is one of the foods that gives off an instant feeling of deep nourishment as our body recognises foods that are high in nutrients and that offer healing to our inner landscapes.

  • What can I use it for?

    All parts of this plant have different medicinal uses, both the leaves and the root are attributed with being anti-oxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory and can be applied for a number of conditions.

    Both beetroot leaves and root are also diuretic, expectorant and carminative, whilst also being specifically hepatoprotective and protective to the cardiovascular system. Beetroot contains high levels of antioxidant compounds and nutrients making it an excellent healing food that supports the health of the entire circulatory system, from the smallest microcapilliaries to heart iteself (3).

    With its high levels of carotenoids, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory constituents, beetroot is indicated where there is inflammation in the mucous membranes, such as in the gastrointestinal or urinary systems. Deeply nutritive brightly coloured vegetables such as Beetroot are important where cellular health is involved, reducing oxidation in the cells and supporting in their regeneration.

    Other benefits reported by include the inhibition of lipid peroxidation and chemo-preventative effects. Red beet is a significant source of polyphenols, which together with the betalains, show a high antioxidant effect and radical scavenging capacity (1,4,5).

    Green leaves and stems are a perfect solution in obesity problems and weight management, as they are typically low in calories. The high level of vitamin A, K and C is important for physiological processes involved in bone health. Green leafy vegetables are a major source of iron and calcium in a healthy diet which are important in preventing chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as they have anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity (1, 4, 5). Beetroot leaves are also used to reduce blood pressure.

  • Into the heart of Beetroot

    Beetroots have a broad nutritional profile including a wide range of vitamins, minerals and organic compounds such as betain, carotenoids, iron, folic acid, phosphorous, potassium, anthocyanins and nitrates. It is the betain that is responsible for beetroots’ vibrant red colour.

    Beetroot has a specific affinity for the blood, which is indicated in its bright red colouring. Beetroot is naturally protective for our heart and blood vessels. Naturally occurring nitrates in beets, are converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide helps to relax and dilate the blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. Beetroot is also natural source of potassium which dilates blood vessels and contributes to an overall lowering of blood pressure. Nitric oxide also improves oxygen uptake within the body, making beetroot a favourable food with athletes for improving endurance and stamina during exercise.

    In addition to boosting cardiovascular functioning, beetroots are high natural sources of Vitamin A, silica, iron and folic acid. Vitamin A protects against macular degeneration of the eyes and conditions such as cataracts as well as being a valuable antioxidant. Silicahelps the body to utilise calcium, an important component for musculo-skeletal health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Last but not least, iron and folic acid can help support a healthy pregnancy.

  • Traditional uses

    Beetroot is a popular vegetable in many parts of the world, usually consumed as a food to gain its medicinal and nutritional properties. It has been used since Roman times to treat various medical conditions, including fever, constipation, digestive illnesses, and blood conditions. In ancient Rome, it was also used as a blood tonic and an aphrodisiac. 

    Traditionally, beetroot is used in Africa as a supportive treatment of AIDS and other illnesses. Beet leaves also have a long history of use for medicinal purposes; it is alleged that Hippocrates promoted the use of the leaves for treatment of wounds.

  • Traditional actions

    • Alterative
    • Antimicrobial
    • Antioxidant
    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Carminative
    • Expectorant
    • Galactagogue
    • Hepatoprotective
  • What practitioners say

    Cardiovascular: Beetroot contains high levels of antioxidant compounds and nutrients making it an excellent healing food that supports the health of the entire circulatory system, from the smallest microcapilliaries to heart itself. Beetroot leaves are also used to reduce blood pressure (1,3).

    Cellular health: Beetroot is often recommended by herbalists for those with inflammation in the mucous membranes, mild to moderate cell abnormalities or as a prophylactic (4). Beetroot is powerfully antioxidant, inhibiting lipid peroxidation and eliciting chemo-preventative effects (1). Beetroot can be used in powdered form taken as a daily medicine or used within the diet.

    Compounds in beetroot called betalains have been found to inhibit cervical, ovarian and bladder cancer cells in vitro, and can also inhibit the proliferation of cells in human tumours, making beetroot an important food and medicine to incorporate into the diet of anyone suffering with cell abnormalities (4,5).

  • Research

    The two primary constituents in beetroot are betains and anthocyanins. Although they are both responsible for the deep red colouring of the plant, they are also antioxidants. Antioxidants help us to fight free radical damage, and protect against chronic degeneration at a deep cellular level.

    Cellular health: Compounds in beetroot called betalains have been found to inhibit cervical, ovarian and bladder cancer cells in vitro, and can also inhibit the proliferation of cells in human tumors, making beetroot an important food and medicine to incorporate into the diet of anyone suffering with cell abnormalities (4,5).

    The cancer chemopreventative potential and antitumor effect of beetroot is based on research around betanins and other compounds. The mechanism of action is based on the stability to manage the oxidative stress involved in the origin and aggravation of cancer. Betaine also has an antiproliferative action along with the induction of cell apoptosis (1, 4, 5, 7).

    Cardiovascular: Betain specifically supports Phase 2 detoxification processes in the liver. This process breaks down toxins that are bound to other molecules enabling them to be efficiently excreted from your body. So, betain is valuable for supporting detoxification and helping to purify your blood and your liver. Betaine also lowers the levels of homocysteine in the body which can affect blood vessel structure. Increased levels of betaine can also, therefore, protect the health of our heart and blood vessels preventing the onset of conditions such as atherosclerosis.

    Obesity: An in vitro study investigated the effects of beetroot juice and chips on oxidative metabolism and apoptosis in neutrophils from obese individuals. Fifteen obese women (aged 45 ± 9 years, BMI >30 kg/m2) and nine healthy controls (women, aged 29 ± 11 years, BMI = 22.2 ± 1.6 kg/m2) were examined. Beetroot products inhibited neutrophil oxidative metabolism in a concentration-dependent manner. Additionally pro-apoptotic effects of beetroot were observed at a concentration range of 0.1–10% in a 24 h culture of stimulated neutrophils (6).

  • Did you know?

    The generic name Beta derives from the Celtic bett meaning red. Originally, it was the beet greens that were consumed; the sweet red beet root that most people think of as a “beet” today wasn’t cultivated until the era of ancient Rome.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Some individuals may have a kidney deficiency that prevents them from properly metabolising betain. This can cause beeturia, or the production of red urine. Although not an immediate contraindication, it may place strain on individuals who already have a kidney deficiency.

  • Interactions

    None known

  • Contraindications

    Some individuals may have a kidney deficiency that prevents them from properly metabolising betain. This can cause beeturia, or the production of red urine. Although not an immediate contraindication, it may place strain on individuals who already have a kidney deficiency. These pigments in beetroot produce red or pink urine (called beeturia) in about 10%-14% of people.

  • Preparation

    • Fresh root
    • Leaves
    • Dried powdered root
    • Capsules
  • Dosage

    Fresh: Can be eaten regularly as part of a balanced diet, or in a juice form (however, this will not contain the natural fibres). The leaves of the beetroot plant are also nutritionally valuable.

    Dried: 1-2 teaspoons of dried beetroot powder daily.

  • Plant parts used

    • Root
    • Leaves
  • Constituents

    • Betalains
    • Carotenoids
    • Phenols
    • B-vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12)
    • Vitamins C, A, E, K
    • Folate minerals
    • Fibres
    • Saccharides
    • Inorganic nitrate
    • Nutritionally; Carbohydrates, starch, soluble fibers, proteins, being a product with moderate caloric value
    • Saponins
    • Alkaloids (calystegine B1, calystegine B2, calystegine C1, calystegine B3, ipomine) (1)

    In the leaves:

    • Amini Acids
    • Threonine
    • Valine
    • Cystine
    • Methionine
    • Isoleucine
    • Leucine
    • Lysine
    • Phenylalanine
    • Histidine
    • Arginine
    • Glutamic acid
    • Proline
    • Alanine
    • Tyrosine (1)
  • Traditional energetics

    • Rasa (taste) Sweet
    • Guna (quality) Energising
    • Dosha effect: PKV+
    • Dhatu (tissue) Blood, heart, plasma, muscle
    • Srotas (channels) Cardiovascular, liver
  • Habitat

    The beet family of plants, grow naturally along coastlines in North Africa, Asia, and Europe.

  • Sustainability

    According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status Beetroot is classed as Least Concern. The taxon is however nationally threatened and in decline in some countries; therefore, national level monitoring is recommended.

  • Quality control

    As with all fruits and vegetables that are widely available in supermarkets, it is recommended that locally grown organic plants are sourced to allow for the highest nutrient density. 

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific / botanical name is used. A supplier should also be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    Beetroot are very easy to grow, taking up little space. Sow seeds little and often for continuous cropping, harvesting when the roots are young, tender and the size of a golf ball. If you grow varieties for winter storage, it’s possible to have beetroot almost all year round.

    • Beetroot grows best in fertile, well-drained soil. Prior to sowing, dig in a bucketful of well-rotted garden
    • Sow three seeds at 10cm (4in) spacings, 2.5cm (1in) deep, in rows 30cm (1ft) apart in small batches at fortnightly intervals. Sowing may begin from March or April going through to July for a succession of tender, tasty roots.
    • Choose bolt-resistant varieties for early sowing under cloches or fleece in late February or early March. From late March onwards protection will not be required.
    • When the seedlings are about 2.5cm (1in) high, thin out to leave one every 10cm (4in). During dry spells, water every 10–14 days. If plants are not growing strongly, apply organic, high nitrogen fertilizer. 
  • References

    1. Liliana, C. and Oana-Viorela, N. (2020). Red Beetroot: Composition and Health Effects – A Review. Journal of Nutritional Medicine and Diet Care, 5(2). doi:10.23937/2572-3278.1510043.
    2. Sun-Pan B, Kuo JM, Wu CW (2006) Flavor Compounds in Foods. In: Zdzislaw E Sikorski, Chemical and Functional properties of food components. (3rd edn), CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.
    3. Kayin N, Atalay D, Akcay TT, Erge HS (2019) Color stability and change in bioactive compounds of red beet juice concentrate stored at different temperatures. Journal of Food Science and Technology 1-10.
    4. Neha P, Jain SK, Jain NK, Jain HK, Mittal HK (2018) Chemical and functional properties of Beetroot (Beta vulgaris L.) for product development: A review. International Journal of Chemical Studies 6: 3190-3194.
    5. Edziri H, Jaziri R, Hadda O, Anthonissen R, Aouni, M, et al. (2019) Phytochemical analysis, antioxidant, anticoagulant and in vitro toxicity and genotoxicity testing of methanolic and juice extracts of Beta vulgaris L. South African Journal of Botany.
    6. Zielinska-Przyjemska M, Olejnik A, Dobrowolska-Zachwieja A, Grajek W (2009) in vitro effects of beetroot juice and chips on oxidative metabolism and apoptosis in neutrophils from obese individuals. Phytotherapy Research 23: 49-55.
    7. Lechner JF, Stoner GD (2019) Red Beetroot and Betalains as cancer chemopreventative agents. Review Molecules 24: 1602.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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