03 May 2009

Vicia faba – Fava Bean

The fava bean hypnotizes me with its early spring green growth. Its thick, almost waxy leaves push through the soil when I'm still only dreaming about my warm weather green beans. Very cold hardy, fava beans originated in the Mediterranean basin and, before the introduction of our common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) by post-Columban explorers, they were the main bean eaten in Europe, the Mediterranean basin, and central Asia. Varieties range from the small, almost pea-like favas known as 'tick beans" to the large-seeded varieties known well in England and Italy as broad beans or horse beans. In Italy and the southern Mediterranean a disease known as favism affects a small percentage of the population: eating even a small amount causes serious illness.

So here we are in late April (it's turned to May since I wrote this!) and my fava beans were planted a few weeks ago on a nice warm Saturday. A few rains in the meanwhile have warmed up the soil and given the seeds the moisture they need to germinate. As usual, I wish I had more in the ground, but living in town and having only a small garden, my spring favorites – fava beans, arugula, and spinach – have to share the space with soon-to-be planted summer things. Some years ago I obtained a small sample of a southern Italian fava bean, and I neglected to plant them. Last month when I looked at my seeds I knew I had to get this variety in the ground or I'd lose it Seeds tend to be viable for a few years longer than seed packets let on (I've successfully planted 5-6 year old seed) and these seeds were about five years old. From my sample of 20-25 seeds six plants are up and growing. If they do well, there will be enough to save seed from, and I'll have another small supply for planting next year. If next year's planting goes well, I'll have enough seed the following year to eat a few of them. But for now, I have to help these six plants along because I don't know if anyone else in the United States has this particular variety.

The challenge with fava beans in Minnesota is that our spring is so short. Favas prefer cool weather and their flowers abort in warm weather. The trick is to get the seeds in the ground as early as you can so that they flower before our summer heat scorches them. Additionally, aphids like fava beans a lot and the seeds need to be developing before aphids come along, or the plants can succumb to their attacks.


  1. We've been harvesting fava beans the last week or so from our plants here in northern California. I planted the seeds last December. They are amazing plant! The seeds I planted were brought back from the Azores by an elderly neighbor, or so the story goes. The pods are getting so huge --about 9 to 10 inches long now! Peeling them and then blanching the beans themselves to remove the covering is a lot of work, but the beans sure are tasty cooked with garlic and olive oil--we have been smashing them up a bit after cooking and eating them on slices of french bread.

  2. That's a delicious way to eat fava beans!