Many Roots Are Economically Important

Roots have long been among our favorite foods. For example, we've cultivated carrots (Daucus carota) for more than 2,000 years, and sugar beets (Beta vulgaris) are a common source of table sugar. Similarly, radish, horseradish, sweet potatoes, and turnips appear regularly on our tables. Of these roots, sweet potato is the most nutritious: it is about 5% protein and contains large amounts of calcium, iron, and other minerals. Conversely, cassava, which is used to make tapioca, contains almost no protein, yet it provides more starch per hectare than any other cultivated crop. Cassava also can grow in nutrient-poor soil and is a staple for millions of people who live in the tropics. Spices such as licorice, sassafras, and sarsaparilla (the flavoring used to make root beer) are derived from roots.

Roots also provide drugs such as ipecac (used to cause vomiting in case of poisoning), ginseng, the tranquilizer re-serpine, and the heart relaxant protoveratrine. Members of the coffee family provide several dyes, as do carrots: their carotene is sometimes used to color butter. Finally, a woodland shrub called the wahoo plant (Euonymus) is sold in some novelty shops as a cure to "uncross" victims of witches' spells. Folklore has it that the victim is saved from the curse by holding a piece of the plant's root overhead and screaming "wahoo" seven times.

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