In praise of the mighty man­gold root


Kiwi gar­den­ers are turn­ing to more un­usual veg­eta­bles, ac­cord­ing to an Auck­land seed seller.

He­len Macken­zie says she was look­ing for things to grow in her gar­den that were not tra­di­tion­ally grown and came across chia, purslane and ital­ian cab­bage, among oth­ers.

To­gether with her son, she grows a wide va­ri­ety of plants for the kitchen as well as for seed sell­ing.

One of the more un­usual finds was man­gold seeds. This plant is in the beet fam­ily Beta vul­garis, re­lated to sil­ver­beet, beet­root and sugar beet.

There are still some re­tired farm­ers, or at least their fam­i­lies, who will re­mem­ber the grow­ing of man­gold crops for stock as a win­ter feed.

This was the main rea­son for grow­ing the plant in the late 19th cen­tury up un­til the early 1940s, when swedes and turnips took over as a pop­u­lar stock feed crop.

Early agri­cul­tural clubs for chil­dren held man­gold grow­ing com­pe­ti­tions with win­ners re­ceiv­ing a na­tional award via the Stu­art Wil­son Cup. The lad pic­tured won the cup at the Strat­ford Show in 1928 for his New Zealand record crop that worked out to pro­duce about 423.4 tonnes per hectare.

Man­golds are also known as man­gold wurzels, man­gels or man­gel­beets. They are from the Ger­man word mean­ing chard root and are thought to have been de­vel­oped from the wild sea beets grown in coastal south­ern and western Europe.

They are thought to have been in­tro­duced to Eng­land by Dr John Lett­some in 1804.

In New Zealand, man­golds grew far larger than their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, de­spite farm­ers there scoff­ing at sug­ges­tions they would grow heav­ier than their own usual 9 kilo­grams. In­stead, ours grew to a whopping 23kg at times.

Ma­nure, and plenty of it, was the se­cret to grow­ing a good­sized man­gold, and the ad­di­tion of salt at sow­ing was said to help. They were, for a time, the most val­ued feed sup­ple­ment crop for dairy cows in win­ter time when grass was short.

Man­golds were lifted and stacked in heaps cov­ered with straw to pro­tect them from the sun for three weeks or so be­fore feed­ing out. Their high sugar con­tent makes them palat­able for stock, but for di­a­betic hu­mans, a care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion.

‘‘They taste sweet­ish, a bit like beet­root,’’ says Mrs MacKen­zie. ‘‘It’s a bit like swedes and other things like that, if you find a way to cook them ad­e­quately, there’s no rea­son why we can’t eat them.’’

The green tops of man­golds are also ed­i­ble and can be steamed like other greens. There are grow­ers world­wide who make beer and wine from the tu­bers.

Some stud­ies showed adding salt at sow­ing im­proved the yield, and reg­u­lar weed­ing and wa­ter­ing are es­sen­tial.

Koanga Gar­dens say man­golds can be used in any recipe that calls for beet­root and that they have a sweeter, less earthy taste than beet­root.

The liv­ing tu­bers can be left in the ground and tops picked un­til re­quired. If they are not to your taste, or you are di­a­betic, then you may still have rea­sons to grow this heir­loom plant that has played an im­por­tant part of our agri­cul­tural past.

Kings Seeds re­mind us that they make good an­i­mal fod­der too. Who knows, if they be­come pop­u­lar once again, the mad old English ‘‘ sport’’ of man­gold hurl­ing may come back into fash­ion too.


Win­ning crop: Harold Wil­lis in 1928 with his na­tional record-set­ting crop of man­golds.


Beet rel­a­tive: A va­ri­ety of man­gold avail­able to­day.

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