The roots and leaves of the beet have been used in folk medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. Modern research is investigating in further detail how beet extracts could be used to protect normal and diabetic livers, as well as their effects on elevated cholesterol in individuals with cancer, and other medical maladies.
The Romans used beetroot as a treatment for fevers and constipation, amongst other ailments. Apicius in De re coquinaria gives five recipes for soups to be given as a laxative, three of which feature the root of beet. Hippocrates advocated the use of beet leaves as binding for wounds. Beet juice can help lower blood pressure. Research published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension showed drinking 500ml of beetroot juice led to a reduction in blood pressure within one hour. The reduction was more pronounced after three to four hours, and was measurable up to 24 hours after drinking the juice.
Since Roman times, beetroot juice has been considered an aphrodisiac. The color of red/purple beetroot is due to a variety of betalain pigments, unlike most other red plants, such as red cabbage, which contain anthocyanin pigments. The composition of different betalain pigments can vary, giving breeds of beetroot which are yellow or other colors in addition to the familiar deep red. Some of the betalains in beets are betanin, isobetanin, probetanin, and neobetanin (the red to violet ones are known collectively as betacyanin).