Monday, January 16, 2012


In February 2010 I became aware of hyacinth beans (HB), officially Lablab purpureusan old-world member of the pea family, and in March of that year chronicled my travails in getting a single HB seed to germinate. Against all odds, that solitary plant has survived, prevailed, and been resurrected in the 'fring'* of January 2011. By the end of 2011, it had proved itself as a perennial, having spread along at least 15 feet of chain-link fence and reached the front-yard garden arch where I try to grow mandevilla and clematis. At one point it almost touched the roof if not the sky. A 'magic' bean indeed!

In late November 2011 I was embarrassed to find my neighbor trimming HB from her side of the fence, where it was encroaching on her bougainvillea. I joined in the pruning, and have established some limits though I enjoy seeing vines cover our side gate. Yesterday I looked carefully at the main stem / stalk / trunk, which has grown quite woody and must be at least three inches in diameter. As fring progresses into spring, I expect to do some proactive shaping. It would be sad to have to cut the whole thing down

Bushels of nitrogen-rich HB cuttings, including immature seeds and pods, have been added to the mulch around our freesias, hyacinth bulbs, and lavenders. This is harvesting of a sort, but it would be nice to cook and eat the beans. Unfortunately they (and the pods) are toxic unless prepared in a very labor intensive manner. Last summer I tried various prescribed methods, but the flavor didn't seem to justify the effort.

HB leaves may be cooked like spinach, but the cooking water must be discarded. How could a person eat cooked spinach without ingesting any of the cooking water? So I've resigned myself to eating an occasional HB flower. They taste like raw green beans and would be good to garnish a salad or top a fancy canape.

Though they have no fragrance, HB flowers look like perennial sweet peas (which, in our garden, they seem to BE!), but they bear up to 16 or 20 blossoms on an 8" stalk. The flowers are smaller and waxier than scarlet runner beans or the frilly blossoms of annual sweet peas. A seller on eBay offers seeds of white hyacinth beans Dolichos [sic] Lablab 'Alba' and claims that they are fragrant. Of course I'll take the plunge. If HB must be grown purely as ornamentals, they might as well smell good.

BTW in looking up my last year's HB postings I was sad to discover that I missed National Bean Day (January 6). Perhaps a nice pot of congressional bean soup will fill the breach.

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*the spring-like season that starts with Southern California's fall rains.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License