previous next


Beet1 is the smoothest of all the garden plants. The Greeks distinguish two kinds of beet, according to the colour, the black and the white. The last, which is the kind generally preferred, has but very little seed, and is generally known as the Sicilian2 beet; just as it is the white lettuce that is held in the highest degree of esteem. Our people, also, distinguish two varieties of beet, the spring and the autumn kinds, so called from the periods of sowing; although sometimes we find beet sown in June even. This is a plant, too, that is sometimes transplanted; and it thrives all the better, like the lettuce, if the roots are well covered with manure, in a moist soil. Beet is mostly eaten3 with lentils and beans; it is prepared also in the same way as cabbage, with mustard more particularly, the pungency of which relieves its insipidity. Medical men are of opinion that beet is a more unwholesome4 vegetable than cabbage; hence it is that I never remember seeing it served at table. Indeed, there are some persons who scruple to taste it even, from a conviction that it is a food suitable only for persons of a robust constitution.

Beet is a vegetable with twofold characteristics, partaking of the nature of the cabbage in its leaves and resembling a bulb in the root; that which grows to the greatest breadth being the most highly esteemed. This plant, like the lettuce, is made to grow to head by putting a light weight upon it the moment it begins to assume its proper colour. Indeed, there is no garden plant that grows to a larger head than this, as it sometimes spreads to a couple of feet in breadth, the nature of the soil contributing in a very considerable degree to its size: those found in the territory of Circeii attain the largest size. Some persons5 think that the best time for sowing beet is when the pomegranate is in flower, and are of opinion that it ought to be transplanted as soon as it has thrown out five leaves. There is a singular difference—if indeed it really exists—between the two varieties of beet, the white kind being remarkable for its purgative qualities, and the black being equally astringent. When wine in the vat has been deteriorated by assuming a flavour like6 that of cabbage, its original flavour is restored, it is said, by plunging beet leaves into it.

1 From Theophrastus, Hist. Plant. B. vii. c. 4.

2 Not the Beta sicla of modern botany, Fée thinks. The black beet of the ancients would be one of the dark purple kinds.

3 It was only the leaf of beet, and not the root, that was eaten by the ancients. From Martial, B. xiii. Epig. 10, we learn that the leaves were preserved in a mixture of wine and pepper.

4 Though not positively unwholesome, the leaves would form an insipid dish, that would not agree with all stomachs. Galen says that it cannot be eaten in great quantities with impunity, but Diphilus the physician, as quoted by Athenæus, B. ix. c. 3, says the reverse. Some MSS. read here "innocentiorem," "more harmless."

5 Columella says the same, De Re Rust. B. xi. c. 3.

6 Fée would seem to render this, "when wine has been spoiled by cab- bage leaves being mixed with it."

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide References (7 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: