Sunday 5 August 2012


2012 has been a very different year from 2011 for many people growing food here in the UK. At least three people I've spoken to in the last week have reported blight on their potatoes. And there are hardly any cherries, damsons or sloes in evidence. Then there are the slugs.

This is a post I did almost a year ago about beetroot as food and medicine and I include it here with its beetroot and carrot salad recipe as these vegetables seem to be doing okay, at least here in East Anglia. And it's a salad that really makes you feel good.

Recently I've come to like beetroot so much I forget there was a time when I was rather snooty about it. "Beetroot - so, so...common! Peasant food!" Accompanied by dismissive wave of hand.

Which goes to show that I knew nothing really about peasants (though I come from a long line of the Irish variety). And that I was not paying proper attention to food. Including beetroot.

Not paying attention to food is something I can't really get away with as part of The Low Carbon Cookbook crew. After all we talk in detail about all the food we bring to the meetings, with each other - IN PUBLIC! But the more attention I pay and the more I engage in the food I'm eating and where it comes from, the more enjoyment and meaning there is in it.

Rainbow-coloured root and leaf salads and slaws appear frequently at our Low Carbon cookups. This has got to be one of my favourites:

Beetroot and Carrot salad
1 or 2 Beetroots, raw
1 or 2 Carrots, raw
Small handful of chopped parsley
Pinch of Salt
Black pepper
Tablespoon of cider vinegar (or juice of 1 Lemon)
Local honey (optional)
Hemp oil

Grate the raw beetroot and carrot into a bowl and mix together with the parsley. Alternatively the parsley can be sprinkled on top as a garnish. Stir cider vinegar (or lemon), hemp oil and honey together and whisk it with a fork. Stir into the salad. Keep in a cool place until ready to eat.

But this is also medicine food. Each ingredient in this salad has a long history of medicinal as well as culinary use.

Parsley counts being a kidney detoxifier, diuretic and tonic amongst its many actions and virtues. And most of us have drunk hot lemon and honey to ease fevers and chills.

Carrots help digestion and contain beta-carotene which changes to Vitamin A in the body and assists night vision. In large doses Vitamin A is toxic, although beta carotene itself is safer as the body excretes what it doesn't need. You'd have to eat a very large number of carrots before you turned orange!

Apple cider vinegar with its anti-oxidant properties has a long history of medicinal use and features extensively in Jethro Kloss's classic herbal treatise from 1939 "Back to Eden". It is used for arthritis and its high acetic acid content means it helps our bodies absorb minerals from the food we eat.

And Hemp Oil provides the perfect alternative to oily fish for omega oils 3, 6 and 9 that our body doesn't produce but which we need for a healthy immune system and circulation. Surely this is a food that can help with the overfished seas.

But back to the beet. As well as being full of nutrients and minerals such as iron and zinc, it stimulates the lymphs, boosts the immune system and helps the kidneys and digestion. It also lowers cholesterol, helping to prevent heart disease. The juice can also be used in wound dressing. But beetroot becomes even more exciting and relevant for the future because it is easily grown without the need for pesticides. A truly transitional root vegetable.

The main key to food and well being here however is that growing food ourselves or buying it from people who grow locally connects us directly with the place we're in, the plants that grow there and the people growing them. This in itself is good medicine (in the sense that being in synch with your environment creates harmony and health both inside and outside).

The actual beet roots and leaves in these photos were grown (organically) by Kris (Sustainable Bungay), who pulled them up and gave them to us the other day on a visit to his house. The carrots are from Swallow Organics in Darsham where we have a weekly veg box. The parsley is from The Blue Shed in Walpole and bought from local grocers Focus Organic in Halesworth.

And when I get home later I am going to make that salad!

7.15pm Just about to eat the above!

Useful resources:
Pics: Parsley leaf, carrot slice and beetroot round on beet greens, Beet green veins (signature of heart medicine) by Charlotte Du Cann; Beetroot, Carrot and Parsley by Mark Watson


  1. It has certainly been a tricky year in the garden and the first year that I have had blight on tomatoes. Fortunately the potatoes had reached a decent size before the tops had to come off. My resident frogs and toads have got the slugs under control so the beetroot is doing ok but no giants like last year, I regret! Peas and beans have liked the damp so not all doom and gloom.

  2. Ah, the beauty of frogs and toads, John. Grass snakes eat slugs too, someone told me recently. I've seen a few in the compost heap, and things aren't too badly slug-eaten here.

    Apples are looking to be in short supply though.