Beets, Power, Sugar & Blood

by SeedGal — all rights reserved. August 28, 2017

Seedgal’s Garden Journal History on Beets & Swiss Chard 

Beets BC

Denmark’s archeological site Tybrind Vig near Fyn Island preserves a prehistoric site dated older than 4,000 BC. The elaborate culture uncovered, included artifacts like tools made from wood and bone, boats with ornate paddles and pottery. Signs of their diet included foraging on the sea beet, a relative to the garden varieties we enjoy today.
Egyptians cultivated the chard form (leaves) of beets about 1,500 BC in the valleys of the Tiger and Euphrates rivers. Chard and beet roots became a food staple through the Middle Ages on many continents; including the Mediterranean, Middle East, Europe, and China. 
Beets aren’t native to North America. In fact, the genus Beta (beet) has old world locations: Turkey, Greece, Russia, Spain, and Northwest Africa including the Canary Islands. Beta vulgaris and it’s subspecies maritima can still be found found along the ocean coast of all the Mediterranean countries, near river valleys of Italy, Sardinia and Corsica. These are the ancestral species of today’s commercial beets and chard.

Shopping in ancient Greece you may have found red and white beets plus leafy chard forms available in the markets. The goddess Aphrodite viewed beets as an aphrodisiac. Table beets like those used for canning, are red while the sugar beet is white. Beer was thought to have been brewed from beets in the Middle Ages. A few hobbyists make beer sometimes from red beets however for an entertaining and informative piece on brewing sugar beets see: ‘Mangel Wurzel Ale — Sugar Beet Root Beer.’

Power Play

Beet and chard plants continued as food sources from the renaissance and middle ages.
Who would think the beet would become a centerpiece for sweet revenge?

Durng the peak of Napoleon’s reign, Napoleon strategically observed England’s vast stake in the West Indies sugar cane plantations and routing of shipments. With reasoning, since the demand for sugar was at an all-time high; Napoleon funded the French Institute to find ways of extracting sugar from grapes. Meanwhile, in a humble laboratory German chemist Marggraf discovered a technique for crystallizing sugar from beets. His student Achard, scaled the method for factory production.

Achard (who was actually French) came to visit the French Institute with his research in hopes of funding, but the French Institute wasn’t very receptive, after all they had ‘grape sugar’ research going on at the time. Achard was eventually funded by the King of Prussia and helped start the first beet sugar extraction factory (1802, in Poland). Four years later, this property might have been monetized anyway- under Napoleon’s Treaty of Tilsit, 1806. 
Napoleon’s Candy Crush
Just before the treaty, Napoleon orchestrated a devastating economic blow to the English, by effectively blocking their ships from entering any ports. This capitulated and crushed England’s slave trade and cane sugar distribution; entirely bringing English imports to a halt.

Napoleon’s investments in supporting local sugar production became successful. The French Institute switched from failed experiments with grapes to using beets for sugar extraction. In 1810, Napoleon declared 72,000 acres of beets were to be planted immediately; also the construction of new sugar factories.

Soon granulated sugar wasn’t just a treat for the rich. The new local source of sugar became widely available at a fraction of the cost, compared to ‘cane’ sugar. This spurred immediate regional economic growth in Europe, in a relatively short amount of time, sugar from beets had almost entirely replaced cane sugar. Having caught on later (however quick to makeup) the United States by 1917 had over 90 beet sugar processing plants. Today 54% of domestic sugar is produced in the USA.

Swiss & Beets
The possibility of beets and blood substitution 
In Sweden at Lund University, research in Sweden examines sugar beets and similarities to human blood. In 2014, a doctoral student at Lund University had discovered that there is hemoglobin in sugar beets, which is almost identical to human hemoglobin, especially the form we have in our brains. This could be a lifesaving discovery and potentially solve issues with blood shortages worldwide. Read more about this amazing discovery from the Lund University, see:

No Swiss & Chard — What?
There is nothing ‘Swiss’ about Swiss chard. The name originated in Europe in the 1880’s as a way of distinguishing chard from French spinach when marketing seeds. Yes, as a marketing tool. The word ‘Swiss’ was used to simply distinguish chard from spinach varieties in seed catalogs. To forgive and forget such marketing folly; try melting copious amounts of Swiss cheese over lightly salted and whole pan-fried chard leaves, bon appétit.

As mentioned before, the plant is common to the Mediterranean. Specifically Swiss Chard varieties trace back to Sicily, as a food intentionally propagated. Today, Swiss Chard is grown on most of the world’s continents; in France it grows commonly around the Rhone valley as a vegetable crop and for landscaping since the plant’s leaves are beautiful.
Characteristics of Swiss Chard include their long sturdy and crisp upright leaves and long taproot. The stalks of Swiss Chard can be colorful with pink, orange, yellow in the ‘Rainbow’ variety. Chard is extremely perishable and stores best in the very coldest part of your refrigerator.

The commercial seeds of beets and Swiss chard are identical; each seed is actually like a mini-packet that unleashes multiple seeds into moist soil, once planted. Rainbow Swiss Chard can be sown all during the growing season even through late summer. Mature leaves can reach around 2 ft in height, a colorful edible originally foraged along coastlines in old world cultures. Rainbow Swiss Chard — the more the plant matures, the more colorful stalks become with pink, bronze, orange, purple, and ivory hues.

Beet and Chard seeds — same size and same shape

Tips on Growing Beets: 
Ready to Harvest: About 48 days
Tips for containers or in ground sowing for ‘Beets Early Wonder’
sow seeds from the beginning of the growing season to late-summer in a sunny location. Thin beets so there is about 1¾ inches (spaced) between each healthy sprout. Harvesting: Leaves are needed so the plant can produce the root; picking a few leafy greens from beet tops for cooking is still okay for beet production. Twist the beet and pull up to harvest, try to hand break the leaves off instead of cutting so more juice remains in both parts of the plant.
Rainbow Swiss Chard:
Ready to Harvest: About 60 days 
You can harvest Swiss chard earlier, if you want the colorful stalks let it mature.

Tips for containers: Grow ‘Rainbow Swiss Chard’
Containers should be 10 inches or more deep. Keep the bottom part of the containers well drained by adding extra Perlite to the bottom soil or clean small gravel for proper drainage. Thin until you are pleased with how the container will eventually fill-out as the chard leaves grow to about 18-30 inches and in some areas longer. The good news about Rainbow Swiss Chard is the lack of pests. When harvesting select outer leaves of each plant first, plants typically continue to thrive beautifully in early winter. 
Swiss Chard has much longer, juicer leaves than beets. Unlike other vegetables, if by chance these happen to bolt just cut the total stalk off and enjoy (like broccoli) in any vegetable preparation. If you are lucky to live on the East or West coast or happen to have slightly saline soil, chard and beets can be your natural in-ground edible landscaping. Both plants tolerate naturally saline soil. 
Swiss Chard cooked, one cup serving - Over 3 grams of protein. A good source for fiber plus many trace vitamins and minerals including Iron, K, A, B, and E.
Beets sliced and prepared, per one cup serving - More than 2 grams of protein; good sources of iron and potassium. Other nutrients: C, B, Folate, Calcium, and Zinc.
Learn more about nutrition see USDA for details

Make your garden bloom and thrive in colder climates visit for quality seeds

References for this article include:

Roberts, Jonathan. Cabbage & Kings: The Origins Of Fruit & Vegetables. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2001.

University of Maryland extension Publication GE 128 ‘Swiss Chard.'
Sugar Knowledge International
Doney, Devon L.
1985 Sugarbeet Research and Extension Reports, Volume 16
Origin, distribution and collection of sugarbeet and its wild relatives.
Res. Genet., USDA-ARS, Agron. Dept., NDSU, Fargo, ND
Nordrum, Amy. 2015, Sugarbeets make Hemoglobin. (Sciences) Scientific American
Lore - Website explores folklore & foods, provides vegetarian recipes see:
Instructbales - 'Mangel Wurzel Ale - Sugar Beet Root Beer.'