BEAN (a common Teutonic word, cf. Ger. Bohne), the seed of certain leguminous plants cultivated for food all over the world, and furnished chiefly by the genera Vicia, Phaseolus, Dolichos and others. The common bean, in all its varieties, as cultivated in Britain and on the continents of Europe and America, is the produce of Vicia Faba. The French bean, kidney bean, or haricot, is the seed of Phaseolus vulgaris; but in India several other species of this genus of plants are raised, and form no small portion of the diet of the inhabitants. Besides these there are numerous other pulses cultivated for the food both of man and domestic animals, to which the name bean is frequently given. The common bean is even more nutritious than wheat; and it contains a very high proportion of nitrogenous matter under the form of legumin, which amounts on an average to 24%. It is, however, a rather coarse food, and difficult of digestion, and is chiefly used to feed horses, for which it is admirably adapted. In England French beans are chiefly, almost exclusively, used in the green state; the whole pod being eaten as a table vegetable or prepared as a pickle. It is wholesome and nutritious; and in Holland and Germany the pods are preserved in salt by almost every family for winter and spring use. The green pods are cut across obliquely, most generally by a machine invented for the purpose, and salted in barrels. When wanted for use they are steeped in fresh water to remove the salt, and broiled or stewed they form an agreeable addition to the diet at a time when no other vegetable may be had.
The broad bean - Vicia Faba, or Faba vulgaris, as it is known by those botanists who regard the slight differences which distinguish it from the great majority of the species of the vetch genus (Vicia) as of generic importance - is an annual which has been cultivated fiom prehistoric times for its nutritious seeds.
The lake-dwellers of Switzerland, and northern Italy in the bronze age cultivated a small-fruited variety, and it was grown in ancient Egypt, though, according to Herodotus, regarded by the priests as unclean. The ancient Greeks called it , the Latins faba, but there is no suggestion that the plant is a native of Europe. Alphonse de Candolle (Origin of Cultivated Plants, p. 320) concludes that the bean was introduced into Europe probably by the western Aryans at the time of their earliest migrations. He suggests that its wild habitat was twofold some thousands of years ago, one of the centres being to the south of the Caspian, the other in the north of Africa, and that its area has long been in process of diminution and extinction. The nature of the plant favours this hypothesis, for its seed has no means of dispersing itself, and rodents or other animals can easily make prey of it; the struggle for existence which was going against this plant as against maize would have gradually isolated it and caused it to disappear, if man had not saved it by cultivation. It was introduced into China a little before the Christian era, later into Japan and more recently into India, though it has been suggested that in parts of the higher Himalayas its cultivation has survived from very ancient times. It is a plant which will flourish in all ordinary good garden soil. The seeds are sown about 4 in. apart, in drills 2 ft. asunder for the smaller and 3 ft. for the larger sorts. The soil should, preferably, be a rather heavy loam, deeply worked and well enriched. For an early crop, seeds may be sown in November, and protected during winter in the same manner as early peas. An early crop may also be obtained by dibbling in the seeds in November, sheltering by a frame, and in February transplanting them to a warm border. Successional crops are obtained by sowing suitable varieties from January to the end of June. All the culture necessary is that the earth be drawn up about the stems. The plants are usually topped when the pods have set, as this not only removes the black aphides which often settle there, but is also found to promote the filling of the pods.
The following are some of the best sorts: - for early use, Early Mazagan, Long-pod, Marshall's Early Prolific and Seville Long-pod; for late use, Carter's Mammoth Long-pod and Broad Windsor.
The horse-bean is a variety - var. equina.
Cultivation of Field-bean. - Several varieties of Vicia Faba (e.g. the horse bean, the mazagan, the tick bean, the winter bean) are cultivated in the field for the sake both of the grain, which is used as food for live-stock, and of the haulm, which serves for either fodder or litter. They are best adapted for heavy soils such as clays or clayey loams. The time for sowing is from the end of January to the beginning of March, or in the case of winter beans from the end of September to the middle of November. The bean-crop is usually interposed between two crops of wheat or some other cereal. If spring beans are to be sown, the land after harvest is dressed with farmyard manure, which is then ploughed in. In January the soil is levelled with the harrows, and the seed, which should be hard and light brown in colour, is drilled in rows from 15 to 24 in. apart at the rate of from 2 to 2 bushels to the acre and then harrowed in. The alternative is to "dibble" the seed in the furrow left by the autumn ploughing and cover it in with the harrows; or the land may be ridged with the double-breasted plough, manure deposited in the furrows and the seed sown broadcast, the ridges being then split back so as to cover both manure and seed. After the plant shows, horse-hoeing and hand-hoeing between the rows is carried on so long as the plant is small enough to suffer no injury therefrom. The routine of cultivation for winter beans hardly differs from that described except as regards the time of sowing.
Beans are cut when the leaf is fallen and the haulm is almost black either with the fagging hook or the reaping machine, though the stoutness of the stalks causes a severe strain on the latter implement. They are tied and stocked, and are so left for a considerable time before stacking. There is less fear of injury to the crop through damp than in the case of other cereals. Their value for feeding purposes increases in the stack, where they may remain for a year or more before threshing. Pea and bean weevils, both striped (Sitones lineatus) and spotted (Sitones crinitus), and the bean aphis (Aphis rumicis), are noted pests of the crop. Winter beans come to maturity earlier than the spring-sown varieties, and are therefore strong enough to resist the attacks of the aphis by the end of June, when it begins its ravages. Field-beans yield from 25 to 35 bushels to the acre.
Phascolus vulgaris, the kidney, French or haricot bean, an annual, dwarf and bushy in growth, is widely cultivated in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical regions, but is nowhere known as a wild plant. It was long supposed to be of Indian origin, an idea which was disproved by Alphonse de Candolle, who sums up the facts bearing on its origin as follows: - Phaseolus vulgaris has not been long cultivated in India, the south-west of Asia and Egypt, and it is not certain that it was known in Europe before the discovery of America. At the latter epoch the number of varieties in European gardens suddenly increased, and all authors began to mention them. The majority of the species of the genus exist in South America, and seeds apparently belonging to the species in question have been found in Peruvian tombs of an uncertain date, intermixed with many species, all American. Hence it is probable that the plant is of South American origin.
It is a tender annual, and should be grown in a rich light loamy soil and a warm sheltered situation. The soil should be well enriched with hot-bed dung. The earliest crop may be sown by the end of March or beginning of April. If, however, the temperature of the soil is below 45°, the beans make but little progress. The main crops should be got in early in May; and a later sowing may be made early in July. The earlier plantings may be sown in small pots, and put in frames or houses, until they can be safely planted out-of-doors. A light covering of straw or some other simple shelter suffices to protect from late frosts. The seeds should be covered 1 or 2 in. deep, the distance between the rows being about 2 ft., or for the dwarfest sorts 18 in., and that between plants from 4 to 6 in. The pods may be used as a green vegetable, in which case they should be gathered whilst they are so crisp as to be readily snapped in two when bent; but when the dry seeds are to be used the pods should be allowed to ripen. As the green pods are gathered others will continue to be formed in abundance, but if old seed-forming pods are allowed to remain the formation of young ones will be greatly checked. There are numerous varieties; among the best are Canadian Wonder, Canterbury and Black Negro.
Phaseolus multiflorus, scarlet runner, is nearly allied to P. vulgaris, of which it is sometimes regarded as a variety, but differs in its climbing habit. It is naturally perennial and has a thick fleshy root, but is grown in Great Britain as a tender annual. Its bright, generally scarlet flowers, arranged in long racemes, and the fact that it will flourish in any ordinary good garden soil, combine to make it a favourite garden plant. It is also of interest as being one of the few plants that twine in a direction contrary to the apparent motion of the Sun. The seeds of the runner beans should be sown in an open plot, - the first sowing in May, another at the beginning of June, and a third about the middle of June. In the London market-gardens they are sown 8 to 12 in. apart, in 4 ft. rows if the soil is good. The twining tops are pinched or cut off when the plants are from 2 to 2 ft. high, to save the expense of staking. It is better, however, in private gardens to have the rows standing separately, and to support the plants by stakes 6 or 7 ft. high and about a foot apart, the tops of the stakes being crossed about one-third down. If the weather is dry when the pods are forming abundantly, plenty of tepid water should be supplied to the plants. In training the shoots to their supports, they should be twined from right to left, contrary to the course of the Sun, or they will not lay hold. By frequently picking the pods the plants are encouraged to form fresh blooms from which pods may be picked until the approach of frost.
The ordinary scarlet runner is most commonly grown, but there is a white-flowered variety which has also white seeds; this is very prolific and of excellent quality. Another variety called Painted Lady, with the flowers red and white, is very ornamental, but not so productive. Carter's Champion is a large-podded productive variety.
Another species P. lunatus, the Lima bean, a tall biennial with a scimitar-shaped pod (whence the specific name) 2 to 3 in. long containing a few large seeds, is widely cultivated in the warmer parts of the world.
The young pods of another leguminous climbing herb, Dolichos Lablab, as well as the seeds, are widely used in the tropics, as we use the kidney bean. The plant is probably a native of tropical Africa, but is now generally cultivated in the tropics. The word Dolichos is of Greek origin, and was used by Theophrastus for the scarlet runner.
The Soy bean, Glycine hispida, was included by Linnaeus in the genus Dolichos. It is extensively cultivated in China and Japan, chiefly for the pleasant-flavoured seed from which is prepared a piquant sauce. It is also widely grown in India, where the bean is eaten, while the plant forms a valuable fodder; it is cultivated for the latter purpose in the United States.
Other references to beans will be found under special headings, such as Calabar Bean, Locust-Tree. There are also several non-leguminous seeds to which the popular name bean is attached. Among these may be mentioned the sacred Egyptian or Pythagorean bean (Nelumbium speciosum), and the Ignatius bean (probably Strychnos multiflora), a source of strychnine.
The ancient Greeks and Romans made use of beans in gathering the votes of the people, and for the election of magistrates. A white bean signified absolution, and a black one condemnation. Beans had a mysterious use in the lemuralia and parentalia, where the master of the family, after washing his hands three times, threw black beans over his head nine times, reiterating the words "I redeem myself and my family by these beans."
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)