Controversial Hyacinth Bean

 Hyacinth Bean: Purple Protein, and More

I’ve never understood the brouhaha over the Hyacinth Bean. Is it edible or is it not?

A monograph in the Journal of Economic Botany (1962, Vol 17:146-153) states on page 150 in reference to the Dolichos lablab:

“For food, usually other varieties of Doliehos which have tender pods are grown, but they require better soil and more water. The bean of Dolichos [lablab] from Angola is eaten in that country, as well as in the vicinity of Val de Pahnas. It was introduced by letting neighbors harvest the pods, of which they could keep half as payment for their labor. Beating the dry pods with a stick will easily free the beans. On the farm, the maize-threshing machine was used. As food, the beans can be prepared in many different ways. They are tasty and eaten like other beans or as a salad, though they have to be cooked longer than ordinary beans.”

Thus the beans are edible. They just have to be cooked longer than other beans, and for good reason. But, the issue does not stop there. In Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America (Merritt Fernald and Alfried Kinsey 1958) it states on page 256:

“The ornamental hyacinth bean, with showy purple or white flowers in long and interrupted spike-like clusters and large pods about one inch broad, is cultivated chiefly for ornament southward and has escaped to roadsides and thickets northwards to the District of Columbia and Ohio. In the Far East, where it is native, the young foliage, tender young pods and fresh inflorescences are eaten either raw or steamed, while the beans are cooked.”

And in The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America by Dr. Francois Couplan (1998) he states on page 252:

“Originally from tropical Asia, the plant is cultivated on our continent, mostly for ornament, and is found as an escape in southern regions. Young leaves, flowers, and tender, immature pods are edible raw or cooked. The ripe seeds are eaten cooked, either boiled or roasted. In Asia, they are made into noodles. The Hyacinth Bean is cultivated as a vegetable throughout the tropics. Many local species are used as food in tropical Asia, Africa, America and Australia.”

Immature pods

So, what’s the catch? There is one: Mature and dry beans have got a high amount of cyanogenic glycosides in them. Not good for you. Mature or dry beans must not be eaten raw. They have to be cooked. That means boiling soft raw mature beans or roasting as heat drives away the toxin. If they have dried — read they are hard — that means soaking overnight then boiling them a long time in a lot of water. Or, boil unsoaked dry beans in a lot of water twice. Actually, that is what one often has to so with many dried beans. And the older any bean is the longer you have to cook it.

Dry and Fresh Beans

So there is a toxin and some judgement is needed. If I have fresh mature beans — like the green ones right — it’s a long boil in a lot of water or a roast. If I have dry mature beans — also right — it’s a soak and two boils. When you cook the bean it has a very strong bean odor and it looses its color, as a lot of beans do.  Very young pods with immature seeds can also be boiled and eaten. Also, do NOT drink or use the boiling water.

Thus the Hyacinth Bean, aka Bonavista Bean, is suitable for the herb pot or the bean pot. Here’s another reason why: The leaves are more than 28% protein, 12% fiber, 7% minerals and 7% fat, eaten freshed or dried. They are an excellent source of iron and magnesium as well as a good source of phosphorus, zinc, copper, and thiamin. Beyond that, sprouts are edible and the cooked root is full of edible starch. You can even ferment the beans as with soy or make tofu. See recipes below.

Fresh Hyacinth Beans

There are also several cultivars, emphasizing this or that quality, such as red flowers or longer beans or larger roots. Two common ones are Ruby Moon, and White. Two cultivars widely grown as crops are ‘Highworth’ from India, which is early maturing with purple flowers and black seeds. ‘Rongai’, from Kenya, is late-maturing with white flowers and light brown seeds.

We’ve known, in writing, since the 700s that the bean was edible. As mentioned above it was affirmed in 1958 by nationally known experts, mentioned as edible in a scholarly journal in 1962, in various publications since then, and in an encyclopedia in 1998 written by another PhD. And yet, one can find articles less than a year old on the internet saying the bean or the blossom is not edible. Those people just do not do their homework.

Mature dried beans

Botanically the bean is Dolichos lablab or Lablab purpureus. Dolichos (DOE-lee-kos) is from the Greek “dolikhos” meaning long or elongated. Purpureus (pur-PUR-ee-us) means purple. Lablab (LAB-lab) is the aboriginal name for the bean.

I planted the bean several years ago on a guy-wire. I grew well but not greatly, but I also ignored it to see how it would do.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Purplish green leaves, each with three leaflets, each 3 to 6 inches long, shaped like a broad oval or loose triangle, attractive bean-like flowers, purple, white, rose, reddish in a flower cluster on short stalks along a long main stem. Vine can reach 10 feet long in one season, 30 feet over a years.

TIME OF YEAR:A bsent of a frost or freeze the bean will flower within three months of planting and fruit for most of the year.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes full sun, moist soil, will not tolerate shade.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous. Young leaves edible fresh or dried, young pods with immature seeds, edible cooked. Flowers and sprouts edible raw or cooked. Older non-dry beans cooked. Dry beans soaked and cooked in two changes of water. Older beans, leaves and pods strong in flavor and texture. Young and tender is better and safer. Roots cooked.

Hyacinth Bean Curry

By Bhakti Satalkar

The list of ingredients for this recipe are indeed long. However, it will not take very long to make the curry.


* 1 cup peeled and soaked hyacinth beans

* 2 onions, chopped

* 3 tomatoes, chopped

* 2 tbsp coconut paste

* ½ tsp ginger paste

* ½ tsp garlic paste

* ½ tsp fennel seeds

* 1 tsp chili powder

* 1 tsp coriander powder

* ¼ tsp turmeric powder

* 1 tbsp oil

* 2 to 3 Curry leaves

* Coriander leaves and mustard seeds for seasoning

* Salt to taste


* In a blender, blend coconut paste and fennel seeds together.

* In a pan, heat oil and add mustard seeds, onions, ginger paste, garlic paste and turmeric powder.

* Saute the onions, till they are translucent.

* Add tomatoes and continue to stir.

* Add salt as per taste and continue to stir.

* After the onions and tomatoes are well cooked, add coriander powder and chili powder to the mixture.

* Now add peeled beans and fry well.

* After 5 to 7 minutes, add coconut and fennel paste and water to the mixture.

* Cover with lid and let it cook for 10 to 12 minutes.

* After the beans are well cooked add chopped coriander leaves and serve hot.


Hyacinth Bean Rice

By Bhakti Satalkar

I often make this rice. This is the recipe I use, when I come back late from work. You can alternately make the rice in the slow cooker as well.


* 1 cup rice

* ¼ cup soaked and peeled hyacinth bean

* ½ tsp chili powder

* ½ tsp turmeric powder

* ½ tsp coriander powder

* 1 tbsp grated coconut

* ½ tsp fennel seeds

* ½ tsp mustard seeds

* 1 tsp oil

* Salt to taste


* In a pot, heat oil.

* When the oil is hot, add mustard seeds to it, followed by turmeric powder, coriander powder, chili powder.

* Stir the mixture well.

* Then add the soaked and peeled hyacinth beans and let it cook for a minute.

* In the meantime grind, coconut and fennel seeds together.

* Add the coconut, fennel paste to the mixture and stir well.

* Add soaked rice and let it cook.

* Serve hot.


Hyacinth Bean, Eggplant in a spicy gravy Recipe

By Srivalli,

Ingredients Needed:

Hyacinth beans, 1 cup

Eggplant, – 2 medium

Onions – 2 medium

Tomatoes – 2 medium

Chili powder – 1 tsp

Coriander powder – 1 tsp

Salt to taste

Oil – 2 tsp

Coriander leaves for garnish

For Tempering

Mustard Seeds, Urad Dal – 1/2 tsp

Curry leaves – few


For the ground Masala:

Fresh Coconut – 2 -3 tbsp

Green Chili – 1 – 2 (as per taste)

Fresh Coriander leaves – 2 -3 tbsp

Cloves – 2 -3

Cinnamon – 2″

Ginger Garlic paste – 1/2 tsp


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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Renee November 28, 2012, 8:53 pm

    Really useful and clear information. Hyacinth Bean Vines are such beauties and now I’m much clearer on exactly what their status is as edibles. Thank you for taking the time to put together this excellent article.

  • April March 3, 2013, 1:20 pm

    I bought a package of beans, it clearly states that it is not recommended for eating, yet it is one of the species you have noted on here. The difference is that it says “heirloom” on the package. Is it edible still? Or maybe not?? I would appreciate a clarification on this one. It is lablab purpreus, fom botanical interests. I would like to thank you in advance for any reply.

    • Green Deane March 3, 2013, 5:11 pm

      They say “not edible” to cover their legal butts.” Often any treated seed will also say “not edible.”

  • Mary-Lee Gilliland March 25, 2013, 12:49 pm

    Does anyone know if these are grown in Sunset zone 9 (Sacramento)? When do they flower and when are the beans generally seen? I’ve got a display project I’m working on and need beans for late July!

    • Nancy September 14, 2013, 5:36 pm

      I live in the Tampa, FL (zone 9) area and these beans do great here. My neighbors were amazed at how fast they grew, and how beautiful the flowers are. I do water them often. I eat the pods when they are small, cooked in water.

  • Dana Pulley April 3, 2013, 9:29 pm

    A friend of mine introduced me to these beans tossed into a salad. I’m not sure how she prepared them, while they were tasty, afterwards I was quite ill, and have determined I’ll not eat them again. However, I do suffer from IBS, so it could just be me.

  • carol September 10, 2013, 11:50 am

    thanks. we just planted some at the Los Angeles EcoVillage as we are introducing as many perennial edibles as possible. The beautiful plants have begun to set pods. I really appreciate all your research, warnings and recipes.

  • elaine paget March 15, 2015, 4:18 pm

    my question has to do with my animals. I have dogs and cows. would eating the beans make them ill?

    • Ken_L April 21, 2015, 3:36 am

      Any beans are likely to make a dog sick. Dried beans may even kill it. I had to fence my lima beans to stop my dogs eating the drying seeds from inside the pods. But they aren’t interested in green pods.

      The cows will love them; in fact in first world countries, these beans are mainly grown as forage crops.

      • Thomas May 24, 2017, 11:50 am

        What about Chickens? any problem with feeding them boiled Lablab?

        • jeddi November 12, 2017, 5:16 pm

          I grow the scarlet bean vine on my chicken coop. The will eat the plants but will not eat the mature bean, The vines hide my hens, keep them cool and provide a jungle look in the back yard. Bumble bees love to visit too.

  • Arlene_S April 29, 2015, 12:20 pm

    Just bought a little hyacinth bean plant (my first) and will be trying it here in West Virginia. Your information was very helpful — and encouraging. Can’t wait to see this bean plant grow and climb up my trellis, then try some edibles from it!

  • Max Schutze August 22, 2015, 4:20 pm

    Growing these in a public place entails a responsibility to put up a sign telling people not to eat them raw. They can cause death or kidney destruction if not thoroughly cooked.

    • Elizabeth Ritzman August 29, 2017, 1:07 pm

      Read the whole article

  • dahvee September 8, 2015, 12:02 am

    Please, when you say to cook them twice or to roast them, can you say specifically how long? I’m not an accomplished cook but very interested in edible flowers and associated plants. I have some of these growing and they are starting to put out lots of bean pods. Would like to use them but not sure how long a pod is “immature” –specific detail would help. Thx.

    • Monique October 26, 2016, 10:53 am

      We pick and eat these from my mother’s garden. We’ve picked them at different stages but have always cooked them the same–just as we would any other bean, i.e. with seasonings and sausage, in water for a few hours (or a crockpot). My mom has always grown these (she grew up in the islands) but we never knew what the name was until I stumbled across a picture of them on the internet. I guess they’ve matured when the beans inside the pod has gotten hard (?).

  • dahvee September 9, 2015, 1:06 am

    Can you tell me please what do you mean by “peeled and soaked?” Do you mean you extract the seeds from a tender bean pod? And then soak them… for how long? At what point is the seed pod young enough to use, or when is it “old?” When you say “a soak and two boils” what do you mean? How long is it soaked? How long is it boiled? I am no experienced cook but would like to try these. Thank you.

  • Mary Jo Markham October 19, 2015, 10:34 am

    I acquired some seeds from a neighbor. Some seem to be already sprouting and it is fall. Can they be planted now in zone 6-7 or will they be viable in the spring? Thank you for the recipes too. Not sure I will eat them though. I like them for their color and beauty, also draw hummingbirds and honey bees.

    • Monique October 26, 2016, 10:45 am

      My mother grows these (as well as other types) beans. We take them out of the pod (didn’t know the leaves and pods were edible), sautee aromatics, seasonings and sausage and throw everything in a crockpot on low for 8 hours. Delish!!

      • vanita Yogeshwar December 6, 2016, 10:53 am

        You can eat the whole pod when they are still young and fresh. If they snap when you break them in half they are right to eat. De-vein them as you would any green bean and slice them across into 3 mm slivers beans and all. Heat oil, throw in some mustard seeds add the cut, washed chopped beans and season with salt and red chilli powder. You may choose to close and steam or just keep cooking in low heat for about fifteen minutes. It will give off a divine buttery smell and taste. Best eaten with steamed rice or whole wheat flat breads. Look up recipes for “Avaraikkai” as they are called in Tamil (Southern Indian language). Enjoy!

  • Donna Canning September 10, 2016, 8:32 am

    Can you tell me if this bean is harmful to dogs?

  • Greg June 15, 2017, 1:16 pm

    I have grown these on my front fence for years. They have purple flowers and purple pods and do seem to attract humming birds. I have eaten the young pods raw many times and never felt at all sick. I eat them raw or with hummus or other dips. The color is great in a vegetable tray.

  • ArrowB January 4, 2018, 4:34 am

    do not sprout and eat it ‘raw’, unless boiled for long time – better so in pressure cooker. Discard the cooking water. The tender beans ( with pods) can be eaten after a good boil. Of all the cultivate old world edible legumes, this one is the most toxic, along with sword beans or hog beans ( Canavalia spp.) .

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