Fascinating facts and figures about Broad Beans

Broad BeansThe broad bean has a very long history of cultivation, although it no longer exists in the wild. We believe it originated in north Africa and south-west Asia. It was well known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and it had reached Britain by the 17th century. The ancient Egyptians regarded it as a food of the lower classes.

The Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras forbade his followers from eating, or even touching, the beans because he believed they contained the souls of the dead. In Rome, beans were prepared at the annual Lemuralia festival (9, 11,13 May) as a dish to appease restless spirits that were haunting households.

In Luxembourg, the national dish is Judd mat Gaardebounen, which is smoked pork collar and broad beans. The Dutch often eat broad beans flavoured with the herb savoury. Broad beans are high in protein and fibre, an excellent source of folate and a good source of other B vitamins. Around 10,000 tonnes are grown commercially in the UK every year. In the USA they are known as fava beans, derived from their botanical name Vicia faba.

There are two main types of broad beans – longpods and Windsors. Longpods are hardier, so well suited to autumn and very early spring sowings and their seeds are kidney-shaped. Windsor types produce rounder beans in shorter, broader pods. Several of the cultivars we still grow today have a long history. For example, Green Windsor was introduced in 1809, Bunyards Exhibition in 1884, Aquadulce Claudia in 1885 and White Windsor in 1895. A small-seeded variant of the broad bean, known as the field bean, is extensively grown as feed for livestock.

It was once widely believed that rubbing a wart with the furry inside of the broad bean pod would cause it to shrivel and disappear. In some parts of the UK, and particularly in Suffolk, the scent of broad bean flowers was said to be an aphrodisiac.

Broad beans grow best in reasonably fertile, well-drained soil into which plenty of well-rotted compost or manure has been incorporated. A sheltered site is best for autumn sowings, but spring sowings are fine in an open, sunny part of the garden. It is not advisable to grow broad beans in the same spot two years running, as this may encourage soil-borne foot and root rot diseases. In many gardens broad beans are often the first fresh vegetables of the year and, picked young, are a real treat when little else is ready.

To browse all the broad bean varieties we have on offer at Mr Fothergill’s just follow this link to the broad bean seed section of our website

Royal Horticultural Society

This article was first published on the RHS website November 2016. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing your own broad beans.

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