Lablab purpureus: Hyacinth beans

Family: Fabaceae
Common name: Hyacinth beans, Indian beans, Lablab beans, Egyptian kidney beans, Australian peas

Hyacinth beans of different sizes and shapes are used extensively, in various forms in Indian cuisine. They have long twining stems that can grow to a height of more than 6 meters climbing on walls, supporting structures or other plants. They are fast-germinating, fast-growing and fast-blooming going through the life cycle very quickly; making them ideal for vegetable gardens.

Belonging to the pea family of Fabaceae, their roots have nitrogen-fixing bacteria that can absorb atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into nitrates and nitrites that can be absorbed by plants. This Nitrogen cycle can improve the soil quality of your gardens, helping other crops as well.

Leaves of hyacinth beans are broad, alternate and trifoliolate, having three leaflets to each leaf. They are about 15 cms long and 10 cms wide, pointy towards the tip. The upper surface of the leaves are usually smooth, the lower surface has tiny white hairs.

Flowers are held aloft on long racemes; white or purple flowers at various levels, the lower ones opening first and becoming fruits, while the upper ones are still buds. The flowers are very beautiful, and that’s one of the reasons why hyacinth beans are grown as ornamental plants in some regions.

The fruits are 10-15 cms long and 3-5 cms wide depending on the species. 4-8 seeds are contained inside each fruit, with a distinct hilum, the eye at the center where the seed attaches to the pod. The seeds could be white, pink, brown, dark brown and sometimes mottled. Size, color and shape of the fruits depend on the species, some being more curved than the other.

Hyacinth bean plants prefer good sunlight, well-drained soil and sufficient nutrition to grow and bloom. They can be grown in balconies and gardens since they are relatively low maintenance. But they are prone to pest and fungal infections, nothing that cannot be managed with some neem soil and soap solution.

Young seedpods, flowers and leaves are cooked and eaten as vegetables. Young and mature seeds are cooked or sprouted and used in dishes.

They have many medicinal uses, and is used in treatment of cholesterol, blood sugar, stomach ailments, cholera, vomiting, ear and throat infections. The leaf juice, crushed with vinegar is used to treat snakebites.

Propagation is through seeds which can remain viable for 2-3 years with a good 90% germination rate. Germination takes 3-5 days, and plants mature in about 4-8 months, again depending on the species. Seeds can be harvested immediately after the plants start flowering, if you want tender fruits. Mature seeds take over 2 months for the seedpods to brown.

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