Thanks for its lovely fragrant flowers and climbing nature, purple hyacinth vine has long been one of popular ornamental plants. Of course, there are also many other optional climbing plants out there, such as cypress vine, cardinal climber, trumpet vine, moonflower vine, and clematis vine, etc. However, apart from using for decoration purpose, hyacinth bean (Bai Bian Dou) also does a good job on cooking and curing diseases as well. Compared to above-mentioned competitors, it is hardly surprising that it wins the favor from most walls, fences and trellis based on this edge.
What is hyacinth bean?
Also known as Lablab purpureus or Dolichos labla, it is actually the seed of hyacinth plant. It has a few different names in different places, such as lablab bean, poor man’s bean, and Tonga bean, to name but a few. In China, the funny thing is that they don’t name after the color of purple but white.
This plant is one of Fabaceae annuals. It is native to tropics like Africa, Indonesia, and India. Later it was introduced to China in the Han and Jin Dynasty. This climbing herb can grow up to 6 meters in length. Stem presents light purple or light green color, usually glabrous or villous. The trifoliate leaves are with stalk of 4 to 14cm long. Hyacinth flower is often second racemes, 15 to 25cm long, and with erect sturdy florescence rachis. It usually produces 2 to 5 bean seeds in one pod, which are elliptical, white or magenta even black in color, 8 to 13mm long, 6 to 9mm wide, 4 to 7mm thick, with long ridgy umbilici and raphe, white ridgy semilunar strophiole in one side edge.
What is it used for?
As mentioned earlier, besides as an ornamental vine, it is food crop as well. Traditionally people consume the seeds, leaves, roots, pods and flowers. Curry and salad are two common favorite delicacies in some places. What’s more, its edible seeds can serve as a medicinal herb though being considered toxic because of high concentrations of cyanogenic glucosides contained. But results of modern experiments indicate that boiling it for long enough time can make it harmless at all.
Recipes of hyacinth beans
They are rich in nutrition and contain more vitamins and minerals than most leaf, rhizome, and fruit vegetables. Also, it tastes tender and delicious. According to the “Composition of food table”, each 100 grams of them contain 2.8g protein, 0.2g fat, 5.4g sugar, 35k calories, 1.4g crude fiber, 1.5mg iron, 0.32mg carotene, 0.05mg sulphur amine acids, 0.7mg nicotinic acid, and 13mg ascorbic acid etc. So to speak, it is a tonic, summer refreshant, and good medicine as well.
There are many nice recipes out there but in sweltering, humid summer day, the porridge made of hyacinth bean and rice is the one highly suggested. This recipe is simple but good at strengthening spleen while warming stomach, clearing away the summerheat and eliminating dampness, and invigorating Qi to cure diarrhea. You just need to follow a few steps to make it.
- Prepare 25g beans and 50g rice;
- Clean beans with water and soak them for 8 to 10 hours;
- Clean rice with water and soak them for 1 hour;
- Place both of them into a casserole;
- Put in appropriate water and then bring them to a boil on high heat;
- Simmer them until the beans turn soft.
That is it. By the way, prolonged cooking time is required.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
Hyacinth beans are sweet and slightly warm in nature and enter spleen and stomach meridians. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that main uses and indications are spleen-stomach deficiency syndrome, loss of appetite, chronic diarrhea, abnormal vaginal discharge, vomit and diarrhea due to summerheat and damp, and choking sensation in chest and abdominal distension etc. And regular dosage is from 10 to 15g.
Shen Ling Bai Zhu San, from “Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang” (Imperial Grace Formulary of the Tai Ping Era), is a famous recipe and mainly formulated for spleen-Qi deficiency. It looks to strengthen spleen by invigorating Qi while resolving dampness. Although it is mild and tonic, it won’t aggravate the stagnation. Instead it is perfect for those patients with lingering damp due to spleen deficiency, lack of appetite, and loose stool or diarrhea. Other ingredient herbs are Lian Zi (Lotus Seeds), Yi Yi Ren (Seeds of Job’s Tears), Sha Ren (Cardamon Seed), Jie Geng (Balloon Flower Rhizome), Fu Ling (Poria), Ren Shen (Radix Ginseng), Zhi Gan Cao (Honey Fried Licorice Root), Bai Zhu (Atractylodes Macrocephala), and Shan Yao (Chinese Yam).
Possible side effects and contraindications
Cyanogenic glucosides contained don’t dissolve in water. It has antitrypsin activity and inhibits the growth of experimental animal, which is the reason why it being considered poisonous. Another enzyme contained has non-competitive antitrypsin activity but it could vanish after prolonged heating too. At the concentration of 10mg/kg, the experiment shows that it extends the clotting time of citratedplasma from 20s to 60s because of the inhibition to thrombin.
Else, from the perspective of TCM, hyacinth bean is off-limit for those who are suffering from malarial fever. So, take it as a lesson learned the hard way and never let it happen to you like other victims already suffered.