Spilling The Beans!

A common sight all across our winter landscape is the sight of the Hyacinth beans/Dolichos lablab, in bloom. Traditionally, in the east, the seeds are sown at the end of July during the rainy season. By late November these welcoming sights are seen everywhere. Also known as  Egyptian bean and Indian bean, these beans are an ancient legume crop. According to some websites the origin is tropical Africa and to some, it’s Asia.

It’s grown as a food crop throughout the tropics, for both human consumption and animal fodder. For us, the cooler season would be incomplete without including the Hyacinth beans in our diet. The photo above was taken in a village near a river where we had gone on a picnic in January.

Doesn’t the bloom remind you of a pea blossom? Both belong to the same family–Fabaceae. The typical fruit of these plants are called legumes. I caught the one above trailing off the trellis in my mother’s garden. I’ve read read that the vine is grown as an ornamental and the blooms attract butterflies and hummingbirds (in the US) but for us it’s too much of a food thing and usually grown in the back garden.

Although all parts of the plant is said to be edible we have the tender beans, sometimes the young leaves are cooked as a vegetable dish, and of course, the seeds. It’s only when I read up on the Hyacinth beans for this post, I came across the fact that the beans are poisonous if not cooked properly.  This is due to high concentrations of cyanogenic glucosides present in the seeds. So the seeds need to be cooked in several changes of water.  For someone who has had the beans year after year, this was news indeed!

Some varieties have white blooms. And the leaves are greener too! The vines threaten to spill over. They’re fast growing and generally trail off to adjoining support of any form if not trained or controlled. Ever since I thought about a bean post, I’ve been photographing the different varieties. Pictured below are some that are regularly sold in the markets.




A favourite bean dish of mine is to use all these ingredients with smoked pork and dry fish. A perfect way to have steaming hot rice on a winter day!


Although I’ve used serrated coriander for the garnish, the best garnish for recipes which include dry fish is the kind of basil pictured above. This photo was taken in September when my potted herb was blooming. It attracted a great deal of pollinators including this skipper, the Common Dart.

Our short-lived winter will soon be over. And as different vegetables will take over the season, the beans will be forgotten. Only to come back in its own time, some time in November, when these sights will be seen again all across the winter landscape.

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About Kanak Hagjer

Hello from north-east India! I love to blog about all things floral and foliar and sharing the beauty of my region is what I am most passionate about!
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26 Responses to Spilling The Beans!

  1. Susie says:

    Kanak, I’ve grown this as an ornamental vine. But the pods are very dark purple. The beans themselves are black with a spot of white. I love the bloom. They even smell sweet too.

    • kanak7 says:

      Susie, I couldn’t get the darker ones for a photo-shoot!:) They look striking, don’t they? I remember seeing them at Racquel’s blog (Perennial Garden Lover) some time ago.

  2. Mildred says:

    Hi Kanak, Many years ago, mom and I grew this on the mailbox as an ornamental. It was beautiful! Your pictures are very nice and how interesting tolearn about the proper cooking method.

    • kanak7 says:

      Mildred, that must’ve been so pretty! I’m beginning to wonder if some of the ailments afflicting villagers in remote areas could be caused (partly) by too much seed consumption. It’s so much a part of out diet!

  3. mia says:

    Cyanogenic.. sounds really like poison. I knew some beans should not be eaten raw, but cyanid, hm.. Still they are lovely flowers and tastefull, when boiled. I find both peas and beans being lovely climbers in Gardens, with sweet flowers. Dry fish, ( from Norway 😉 I didn’t know you ate that in India, how do you prepare it ? Would be fun to know 🙂

    • kanak7 says:

      Mia, that was a new thing to me too! Thank goodness, googling made me aware of this! Dry fish preparations are popular in our region. But not everybody loves it. It’s definitely a taste that needs to be acquired:) The one in my post, I mean the cooking method, is to cook the ingredients like a stew with water. The combination of the veggies, the meat, and the dry fish is cooked with a pinch of soda bicarbonate (alkali). When it’d done, crushed garlic or herbs are added. Maybe I’ll come up with a post one day! Glad you asked.

  4. Oh, I love those beans. They’re so yummy when cooked by my mom. Great shots, Kanak.

  5. Andrea says:

    Those beans are really lovely as ornamentals. Some regions here also eat those beans but in mine we are not used to, but i taste them as vegegetables when available. The dried seeds i dont like. I know the Indians really have a lot of beans for food and ICRISAT is there for these purposes.

    Kanak you have not seen my latest post yet! I assure you they are beautiful, hehe.

    • kanak7 says:

      Andrea, in our region, these beans as ornamentals will need to be pruned all the time. Don’t they take up a lot of space and keep the adjoining areas under threat?! Oh, you’re right about us…we cannot live without our dals!! These bean seeds are cooked that way too. Great with rice or rotis. BTW, they’re good with dry fish too!

      I’ve seen your latest post. Left me gasping…at the sheer beauty of the displays. I’m still thinking about all your stunning photos…would love to see more!

  6. islandgal246 says:

    I have seen these beans growing along peoples fences here and in the wild. I think they call it bonabis and is used with rice when cooking. I have never tasted them though.

  7. james says:

    These beans are a common vegetable in my place, too common that they are not often sought after.
    But when you said about eating semi-cooked beans, thats is news to me. I often thought the more raw a vegetable the more nutirion it is. (Thanks for the info)

    I wonder whether you plant winged beans – they are eaten raw as salad by the locals in my region.
    Thanks for visiting my blog, hope to hear from you more often.

    • kanak7 says:

      James, I like my French beans that way. A little crunchy when you bite into it. Most websites have mentioned the seeds as being poisonous if not cooked in several changes of water. Anyway, I prefer the Hyacinth beans to be fully cooked.

      About the winged beans, they’re grown in my hometown and in areas that are cooler. I’ve never grown them but would love to, some day. I’d love to visit your site often., There’s a lot of interesting facts about your collection of plants. And new plants fascinate me!

  8. Hi Kanak,

    Such a lovely, informative post. The blossoms are so pretty…and it’s ‘news’ to me that these are poisonous if not fully cooked. Did you grow up eating them raw from the vine? Great photos and interesting to learn something new about foods in India!

    You won’t believe what I just realized! I finally ‘caught on’ that you’ve changed your blog-link! Now that tells you how long it’s been that I was not visiting you. Mainly, because from Nov-Jan I wasn’t blogging and actually ‘quit’ Blotanical, and took my blog offline. Then, sometime in Jan., I had a change of mind (fickle, I am)…and I realized I not only missed my blog but all of my blogging friends. I have been trying to organize things and had no idea until I noticed I wasn’t seeing your posts popping up…so even though I came by a couple of days ago, I still didn’t ‘get it’!!. Just now I changed the link so now your current posts will show up. So I hope that helps explain why I disappeared. At the same time, I didn’t visit most others for that long, as well…since I was offline. But still, I’m glad I finally figured this out;-)

    • kanak7 says:

      Jan, I’ve never had them raw but I’ve read that the blooms can be used in salads. It’s just that I’ve never cooked the seeds in several changes of water. We have the seeds every year, long after the bean season is over but I’ve always cooked them the normal way. This is something that I’ll need to change!

      It was during that period when you went offline, I think, that I tried to leave a comment but couldn’t. Now I wish I had informed you. I only wrote a short post directing my visitors to my WordPress site. I can totally relate to the ‘missing blogging and blogging friends’! A part of me would die if I didn’t blog. And it was for that reason that I switched over. I was having more than my share of formatting woes! If the photos were uploaded, there would be something wrong in formatting the text. Rather than wait for things to get back to normal, I changed my neighbourhood. I’d have gone bonkers if I hadn’t done so! a blogger’s head is always bursting with ideas and images:-))))) But am I glad to read your comment! Such a pleasure to have you here, Jan. Always!

  9. Stephanie says:

    Oh wow! Looks like that’s nothing else to say about this bean already he he… The dried fish is salty? You cook that dish yourself? The plant has wonderful flowers too – both colours are pretty.

    Have a wonderful day Kanak!

  10. Autumn Belle says:

    Kanak, the beans in the first photo looks like those we used to plant at home. We will boil the beans with pork or chicken for 3 hours and drink the soup. These beans are difficult to find in the city. Nowadays I can only buy them from the vegetable sellers who personally plant them in the smaller towns. I was given some seeds which I have been saving like precious commodity, waiting for some space in my garden before I germinate them.

    • kanak7 says:

      Autumn Belle, that soup must be delicious! With the way the vine takes off, city gardens must be too cramped for them. Good luck with the seeds…I hope they bear a lot of fruit! Most of the beans in the photos are from vendors. You can imagine how much beans we’ve had ever since they were out in the markets!

  11. lotusleaf says:

    I enjoyed going through your post. We grow a slightly different variety of these beans.

  12. wendy says:

    What lovely blooms. And those beans look good too. Wish I had your winters. But at least I can come here and enjoy yours!

  13. Titania says:

    Kanak a very interesting post about seasonal vegetables. There are so many different edible bean varieties around. This is a huge plant and the flowers are quite lovely. The vegetable gardener grows 2 different ones, snap beans and the purple climbing beans. We also have our traditional way of cooking them. We also had snake beans but they were not as popular in our house. Before the supermarkets people had to rely on seasonal vegetables. I still do. On the odd occasion I buy vegetables like Brussel sprouts which we can not grow.

    • kanak7 says:

      Trudi, most farmers try to grow vegetables out of season but I’m glad these beans are (still) always sold in winter. Thank goodness for that! Or else the charm of a particular season might well be lost. Since I don’t have the space to grow vegetables I rely on the vendors. We are lucky to get loads of the freshest stuff grown on the banks of the Brahmaputra. And winter vegetables are so much tastier than the summer ones. Doesn’t winter dew make them taste better?

      But our winter will soon be over. Our max read 30* today while the min. is 12* It won’t be long before I’ll be whining about the heat:( !!!

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