The species Vicia faba has been shaped by human selection since around 7,000 BCE. The large-seeded forms commonly used for human food arose around 500 CE. The species is often subdivided by botanists to take into account the different forms that are cultivated, though different botanists often have different ideas about which system of naming is correct. We have three entries in the database, using the three names listed here to cover the basic types that are, at least sometimes, used for food by humans. These are as follows:-
Vicia faba L. This is the cultivated, large-seeded form, often known as broad beans.
Vicia faba var equina St.-Amans. This is the field or horse bean - the seed is occasionally used for human consumption, the plant is used as a green manure.
Vicia faba var minuta (hort. ex Alef.) Mansf. This is the tick bean - the seed is occasionally used for human consumption, the plant is used as a green manure.
Faba bona Medik.
Faba equina Medik.
Faba faba (L.) House
Faba major Desf.
Faba minor Roxb.
Faba sativa Bernh.
Faba vulgaris Moench
Faba vulgaris major Harz
Orobus faba Brot.
Vicia esculenta Salisb.
Vicia faba major (Harz) Beck
Vicia vulgaris Gray
Common Name: Broad Bean
Vicia faba is an erect, annual plant, producing a stout stem with one or more basal branches. It can grow up to 2 metres tall, though most cultivars are smaller[
Broad beans are widely used as a food, and were first cultivated around 7,000 - 4,000 BC, though the large-seeded form that is most commonly eaten did not emerge until around 500 AD. The plant is commonly cultivated for food, and sometimes also as a green manure, both in gardens and on a commercial scale, in many temperate and subtropical areas, and also at higher elevations in the tropics.
Although commonly used as an edible seed, there are reports that eating the seed of this plant, particularly the immature seed, can cause the disease 'Favism' in susceptible people[
]. Inhaling the pollen can also cause the disease[
Favism, which is a severe haemolytic anaemia due to an inherited enzymatic deficiency[
], only occurs in cases of excessive consumption of the raw seed (no more details are given[
]) and when the person is genetically inclined towards the disease[
]. About 1% of Caucasians and 15% of Negroids are susceptible to the disease[
Long cultivated for its seed, the original habitat is obscure but is probably western Asia
Not known in a truly wild situation.
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Broad beans originated in warm temperate areas and can be cultivated from the cold temperate zone to the subtropics, and also at higher elevations from 1,300 - 3,800 metres in the tropics. It may flower well in the lowland tropics, but usually does not produce pods[
]. The ideal temperature range in the growing season is between 18 - 27°c, at higher temperatures the flowers are often aborted[
]. The plant requires an annual rainfall of 700 - 1,000mm, of which more than 60% should occur during the growing period[
Prefers a fairly heavy loam but succeeds in a sunny position in most soils that are well-drained[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Dislikes dry conditions according to some reports[
], whilst another says that it is drought tolerant once established[
]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 to 7[
There are two main forms of this species - small seeded forms that are more commonly grown for feeding livestock and as a green manure, and larger seeded forms that are usually grown for human food. Of the larger seeded forms there are two main types:-
'Longpod' beans are the more hardy and can be sown in the autumn in cool temperate areas.
'Windsor' beans, which are considered to be finer flavoured, are less tolerant of the cold and so are best sown in spring[
Autumn sown varieties are more susceptible to 'chocolate spot' fungus, this problem can be alleviated by the addition of potash to the soil[
Black fly can be a major problem. Autumn sown crops are less likely to be affected. Pinching out the soft tips of the plants, one they are tall enough and are beginning to flower, can reduce the problem since the blackfly always start on the soft shoots and then spread to the older stems.
This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[
]. When removing plant remains at the end of the growing season, it is best to only remove the aerial parts of the plant, leaving the roots in the ground to decay and release their nitrogen.
Immature seed - raw or cooked. Broad bean seeds are very nutritious and are frequently used as items of food. The seeds can be eaten raw when they are small and tender, as they grow older they can be cooked as a vegetable[
]. They have a very pleasant floury taste[
There are some potential problems to the use of these seeds if they are consumed in large quantities[
] - see the notes above on toxicity.
Mature seeds can be eaten cooked as a vegetable or added to soups etc[
]. They are best soaked for 12 - 24 hours prior to cooking in order to soften them and reduce the cooking time[
]. They will also become more nutritious this way[
]. The flavour is mild and pleasant with a floury texture[
]. They can also be dried and ground into a flour for use in making bread etc with cereal flours[
]. The seed can also be fermented to make tempeh'[
]. Made into a paste, they can be used as a sandwich filling[
]. The seed can be sprouted before being cooked[
]. Popped seeds can be salted and eaten as a snack or roasted like peanuts[
Young pods - cooked and eaten as a vegetable[
]. They quickly become fibrous as they grow larger[
], and also develop a hairy coating inside the pods that can become unpleasant as the pods get larger[
Young leaves - cooked. They are very nutritious and can be used like spinach[
The seedpods are diuretic and lithotripic[
]. The inside of the green pods is rubbed on warts to remove them[
The stems and leaves are sometimes used as a green manure[
Broad beans grow well with carrots, cauliflowers, beet, cucumber, cabbages, leeks, celeriac, corn and potatoes, but is inhibited by onions, garlic and shallots[
A fibre is obtained from the stems.
The burnt stems are rich in potassium and can be used in making soap.
The dried stems can be burnt as a fuel[
Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in warm water and then sow in situ in succession from late winter until early summer. Germination should take place in about 7 - 10 days. The earlier sowings should be of suitably hardy varieties such as the 'Longpods' whilst later sowings can be of the tastier varieties such as the 'Windsors'. By making fresh sowings every 3 weeks you will have a continuous supply of fresh young seeds from early summer until early autumn. If you want to grow the beans to maturity then the seed needs to be sown by the middle of spring. You may need to protect the seed from the ravages of mice.
Another sowing can be made in middle to late autumn. This has to be timed according to the area where the plants are being grown. The idea is that the plants will make some growth in the autumn and be perhaps 15 - 20cm tall by the time the colder part of winter sets in. As long as the winter is not too severe, the plants should stand well and will grow away rapidly in the spring to produce an earlier crop. The plants will also be less likely to be attacked by blackfly. Make sure you choose a suitably hardy variety for this sowing.