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Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpureus) is a legume that apparently originated in Africa and has long been cultivated in India. It is now grown in warm regions worldwide in both the Old and New World, including Southeast Asia, Egypt, and Sudan. Although Hyacinth Bean is grown far more extensively in Asia than Africa, the center of diversity for the genus Lablab is Africa and its putative wild ancestor grows in hilly areas and coastal lowlands in southern, eastern, and western Africa (the beans from these wild plants are small and apparently are not eaten).

Hyacinth Bean is planted extensively in pastures in northern Australia. It provides a high yield of forage for grazing beef cattle and improves the yield and protein content of the subsequent grain crops. It is tolerant of drought and high temperature and able to adapt to a wide range of soils and climates. It produces large quantities of green material with a high protein concentration and is widely cultivated as forage and green manure. Young pods and young and mature seeds are used as food for humans. The leaves are sometimes cooked and eaten like spinach. The pulse contains around 25% protein, 0.8% fat, and 60% carbohydrate. The young pod contains 5% protein, 0.1% fat, and 10% carbohydrate. Hyacinth Bean is also grown for its ornamental value.

Although originally a perennial, Hyacinth Bean is often grown as an annual. It is typically a twining plant, 1.5 to 6 m tall, but there are bushy forms as well. The trifoliate (3-leafleted) leaves are tinged purple. The white, pink, or purple flowers give rise to 5 to 15 cm pods that are flat, glossy, and suffused with purple. These pods contain three to six seeds, which may be white, cream, buff, reddish, brown, or black. Mature, dried seeds are reportedly toxic due to high levels of cyanogenic glucosides (more specifically, glucosides) and should be boiled in two changes of water before eating to remove the toxins.

(Vaughan and Geissler 1997; Konduri et al. 2000; National Research Council 2006)


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