It’s winter, and time for the root vegetables. Beets are among the best, naturally sweet and flavorful. Beets are grown both for sugar and culinary use. Beets for cooking come in many varieties. Some of the heirlooms are exquisitely beautiful, such as chiogga, white and golden. For the gardener, there are early maturing varieties, those that are suited to heavy soils, those grown mainly for their leaves, and so on.

Beets are low in fat, high in fiber, and full of potassium. The greens are packed, with Vitamin A, half the RDA of Vitamin C, high amounts of calcium, protein, phosphorus and iron, and small amounts of niacin and riboflavin.

Buy firm, smooth beets with greens still looking fresh. The greens should be removed and used soon. The roots can be stored in plastic in the fridge for several weeks. Beyond that, they can be root cellared, pickled, canned, frozen and dried.

To cook, wash and leave whole. Bake until tender, usually about an hour. When cooked, rub off the skin (here’s where the white and golden ones are really nice – they don’t stain!). The greens should be trimmed, washed and steamed, or sauteed in olive or coconut oil, then dusted with a little sea salt or gomasio (ground sesame seeds and sea salt) to serve. Of course they may be used in other dishes as chard and spinach are.

Don’t forget the beet piece de resistance: borsht. This famous Russian soup is a winter favorite, containing beets, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, brewed in beef stock with apple cider vinegar and herbs, and topped with some raw, organic sour cream. Fantastic!

Raw beets may be grated on salads or juiced. They can be steamed, baked or roasted. Beets are delicious added to soups and stews and served hot or cold, with nuts, cheese, olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Join the naturalcures.com site to learn how to ferment and culture beets for improved gut flora.