This is the week to think about rosy red beets, which are far more romantic than chocolate. Recognized as an aphrodisiac by the Romans, who decorated brothel walls with pictures of the root vegetable, beets contain high levels of a mineral related to the production of sex hormones. They're also rich in tryptophan, which helps create a general sense of well-being.

But even if love's not on your mind, beets have plenty to offer.

Here's what you need to know about them:

1. Beets are chopped and spiced in India, grated and mixed with horseradish in Poland and boiled for borscht in Russia. But the most traditional Southern preparation is pickling: The leftover liquid is perfect for brining hard-boiled eggs, which pick up the magenta hue in less than a day.

2. Beet leaves are edible and delicious; they can be prepared like spinach.

3. There's no shortage of studies demonstrating the health benefits of beets, which help protect against heart disease, liver disease and colon cancer. Among the most interesting recent findings is that distance runners pick up their speed by 5 percent after eating baked beets.

4. If you get beet juice on your fingers, use lemon juice to remove the stains.

5. When shopping, look for small, smooth-skinned beets without mushy spots or bruises.

6. Although beets date back to the prehistoric era, chefs are still finding new uses for them. The beet-and-goat cheese salad is a totem of the farm-to-table movement. And in Detroit, an important city in the saganaki belt, Greek-American restaurants finish every salad of feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives and red onions with sliced beets.

7. Still not excited about beets? Here's a Tom Robbins quote from the Charleston Farmers Market website: "The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion ... Beets are deadly serious."

Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.