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To Eat or Not To Eat: That is the Question

They were grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in 1812 as an arching vine on both sides of the terraces, while in Africa and Asia its edible fruit pods play an important role in native cooking.  What is this highly ornamental vine?  It is the hyacinth bean, also known as Egyptian or Indian bean.

Hyacinth Bean Vine

The hyacinth bean, Dilochos lablab/Lablab purpurea, is a very fast growing, highly ornamental vine.  Dilochos is from the Greek meaning long or elongated; purpurea means purple; and lablab is the Egyptian or Arabic word for the dull rattle of seeds inside the pod.  It was introduced to European gardens in the 1700’s and sold in America by the early 19th century.  With the hyacinth bean’s showy, long and interrupted spike-like light or dark purple flowers and beautiful one inch wide purple pods, these fast growing annual 6-20 foot twinning vines with their lush dark green foliage tinged with purple are highly recommended for use on arbors and trellises.

Here at the Garden we grow two varieties of hyacinth bean:  the more common purple variety with its black and white seeds and a white variety that has mocha and white seeds.  Each of these grows easily in full sun, in rich soil and with adequate water.  Seeds may be soaked or scarified for quicker germination.

Our Vine in Full Bloom Summer 2012

There is controversy over whether the pods and seeds are edible.  In Africa and the Far East, the flowers, pods and seeds are eaten.  However, the mature pods and dry beans contain a high amount of cyanogenic glycocides, a quite toxic substance.  Mature or dry beans must not be eaten raw.  They must be soaked overnight, then boiled in a lot of water.  Even doing this, some people are susceptible to the toxin and, in general, eating hyacinth beans is not recommended.  Rather, just enjoy the hyacinth bean as an ornamental for its lovely flowers and pods.  You won’t be disappointed.

Carolyn

Pictures by Starla and Ann

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