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Is the Velvet Bean Safe to Eat?

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  • Robert Monie
    Hello Everybody, Thanks to Gary Loomis for forwarding the article on green manure by Roland Bunch. One of the world s most popular green cover and manure
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 3, 2002
      Hello Everybody,

      Thanks to Gary Loomis for forwarding the article on green manure by Roland Bunch. One of the world's most popular green cover and manure crops is certainly the Velvet bean (Mucuna supp). This aggressive plant does the job of adding nitrogen to the soil, producing a thick layer of living mulch, and serving as a companion to other plants in many parts of the world.

      But about midway in the article, Mr. Bunch says that "the Velvet bean is a valued source of food." This characterization conflicts with many other reports on the use of the bean. Many varieties of Mucuna supp contain very high levels of anti-nutrients that can be toxic to both humans and wildlife. Prominent among these is the chemical, L-dopa. It is not entirely clear that cooking these beans just once sufficiently reduces the anti-nutrient concentration to make the bean safe for high-quantity human consumption. Some authorities suggest that these beans must be cooked twice (with the water from the first cooking discarded and replaced with fresh water) before they are safe to eat.

      Also, the Velvet bean has a reputation as a "famine food," that is, a last resort when no other food is available. Of course, famine foods are tough and aggressive, so they will be around when little else is hardy enough to survive, but that by itself does not make them a food of choice. In fact, it would be hard to find a human culture that grows less toxic legumes (mung, azuki, black-eye peas, green peas, lentils) but prefers to eat velvet beans.

      For a good introduction to the problems one may encounter when considering whether to use velvet beans as a staple food (as opposed to something to nibble on now and then), go to www.google.com and type in "ECHO- Is the Velvet Bean Safe to Eat?" This is a very mild account of the problem. Another presentation (also by ECHO) tells the story of two tribes at war with each other. One tribe came to the enemy's house and found Velvet beans in the pot, apparently cooked. They feasted on the beans and then promptly died. These beans had not been poisoned by humans; they had been cooked only once!

      When dealing with Velvet beans, I would say "eater beware," unless you are absolutely certain that you have a mild variety.

      Bob Monie

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