beetroot one of four useful forms of the versatile plant Beta vulgaris. The two which provide vegetables for human consumption are the red, globular roots of beetroot itself, and its leaves; and the stalks and leaves of chard. Mangelwurzel, treated with beetroot in this entry, is also cultivated for its edible root, but used for animal fodder. The fourth form is sugar beet, whose roots are an important source of sugar.
All these cultivated forms are descended from the sea beet, B. vulgaris ssp Maritima, a wild seashore plant growing around the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe and N. Africa. This has only a small root, but its leaves and stems are sometimes eaten. Early Greek writers such as Theophrastus referred to the cultivation of this plant. By about 300 BC there were varieties with edible roots.