Mornings and mangelwurzels

Saturday’s morning name: mangelwurzel, the root vegetable. A beet by another name, a really big beet.


Fodder beet: Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. crassa

The most familiar Beta vulgaris plants are those cultivated for their edible taproots (known as beetroot, garden beets, or red beets) and leaves (known as chard).

[Grammatical digression: Count & Mass. The noun beet is C (Count), whether referring to plants or their edible roots: We have a lot of beets/*beet growing in the gardenWe’re having beets/*beet with the chicken for dinner. But the (chiefly British) noun beetroot is M (Mass), whether referring to plants or their edible roots: We have a lot of beetroot/*beetroots growing in the gardenWe’re having beetroot/*beetroots with the chicken for dinner.]

From Wikipedia:

Mangelwurzel or mangold wurzel (from German Mangel/Mangold and Wurzel, “root”), also called mangold [or mangel], mangel beet, field beet, and fodder beet, is a cultivated root vegetable derived from Beta vulgaris. Its large white, yellow or orange-yellow swollen roots were developed in the 18th century as a fodder crop for feeding livestock.

… The mangelwurzel has a history in England of being used for sport [mangold hurling, believe it or not], for celebration [lanterns made from the roots], for animal fodder and for the brewing of a potent alcoholic beverage.

It has also been used as food for people, especially in times of scarcity.

The etymology is fraught with complexity. From the OED3 (Sept. 2000) entry on mangel-wurzel:

Etymology: < German Mangold-wurzel (also Mangel-wurzel ) < Mangold chard, beet (Middle High German mangolt , manegolt (13th cent.; further etymology uncertain)) + Wurzel root … The German compound > Dutch mangelwortel; the simplex Mangold > Italian regional (Piedmont) manigot.

The German form Mangel-wurzel arose from, or was reinforced by, a folk etymology deriving it < Mangel shortage, lack

The first cites are from 1787 (as mangel wurzel and Mangel Wurz), where it’s referred to as the “root of scarcity”; then 1788 with mangel worsal, 1800 with Mangold Wurzel, 1801 with mangel worsel, 1825 with mangold-würzel, and 1844 with mangel-würzel – all in farm contexts. The worsal/worsel variants are presumably representations of spoken English variants in [-zǝl] or [-sǝl]; [-zǝl] is the pronunciation the OED considers to be standard. My own pronunciation is a partly Germanified [-tsǝl], a variant that is evidently shared by many others, considering the relatively large number of spellings of the word as mangel-wurtzel or mangel wurtzel (spellings I’m inclined to myself).

You can get seeds for mangel-wurzels from the estimable Victory Seed (“Rare, Open-pollinated & Heirloom Garden Seeds”) company in Molalla OR:


From their website:

Red Mammoth Fodder Beet

95 to 120 days — Although mangel or fodder beets have all but disappeared from modern agriculture, especially home gardening, they once held an important place in a typical farm plan. Like many old-time crops, they often found their way to their sower’s table. At a younger age, they are quite suitable for this purpose. Left to reach maturity, they are lifted and stored and prove to be a valuable winter feed for livestock and poultry.

‘Red Mammoth’ beets store well and reach a very large size. The oval to spindle-shaped roots can reach twenty to twenty five pounds. They are a dull red color with white flesh and provide an excellent amount of food value per acre. Each packet contains four grams, which is approximately 300 seeds.


Yes, up to 25 pounds. I said they were big.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: