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What is Velvet Bean?

Alex Tree
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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Mucuna pruriens, also known as velvet bean, is an annual shrub that grows long vines. This climbing shrub is found in tropical areas, such as the Caribbean, India, and Africa. It has many common names, including cowhage, picapica, and cowitch. The name "velvet bean" is derived from the fact that the plant is covered in soft hairs when young. As the velvet bean matures, however, it loses these hairs.

The leaves of the velvet bean are ovate or rhombus-shaped, with sharp points and grooved sides. When the plant is young, both sides of the leaves are almost completely covered in fuzzy hairs. The leaves are around 0.1 inch (0.2 cm) long. Multiple leaves can grow on one stem, with each stem growing up to 0.2 inches (0.5 cm) long.

Velvet beans are flowering plants. Each flower head can blossom into just a few or an abundance of flowers. These flowers can be white, dark purple, or light purple. Loose hairs cover the seed pods of these flowers, often causing severe irritation of the skin when contact is made. After the flowers have bloomed, the velvet bean plant begins to form a fruit.

The major use of the velvet bean is manure for small farms. It is resistant to many pests and diseases, including ones that normally attack legumes. In several African and Asian countries, the velvet bean is used as a minor food, as it is a rich source of protein. It can be made into a garnish, condiment, or picked when immature to use as a vegetable. The overall nutritional value of the velvet bean is comparable to that of more commonly eaten legumes, such as soybeans, cowpeas, and groundnuts.

Mucuna pruriens are also used as animal feed in some countries. The plant, however, can be toxic to humans and other nonruminant mammals if eaten uncooked. The cooking process rids the plant of chemicals such as levodopa, which makes it otherwise unsuitable for consumption in large quantities.

The bean has been used as treatment for Parkinson's Disease, though, as of 2010, no data supports its ability to work or the long-term tolerability. The bean contains levodopa and can been used to increase dopamine production in order to treat varying disorders, including depression and sexual dysfunction. Side effects are many and include hair loss, extreme emotional states, and hallucinations. As the bean also contains serotonin and nicotine, it could possibly be a mind altering substance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Velvet Bean and where does it originate from?

Velvet Bean, also known as Mucuna pruriens, is a tropical legume native to Africa and tropical Asia. It's known for its fuzzy seed pods and has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. The plant thrives in warm climates and is often found in parts of the Caribbean and South America as well.

What are the potential health benefits of Velvet Bean?

Velvet Bean is renowned for its high concentration of L-DOPA, a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. This has led to its use in traditional medicine for managing Parkinson's disease symptoms and as a mood enhancer. Additionally, it has been studied for its potential antioxidant properties and effects on the reproductive and nervous systems.

How is Velvet Bean used in agriculture?

In agriculture, Velvet Bean is utilized as a cover crop to improve soil fertility. Its ability to fix nitrogen enriches the soil, making it a valuable green manure. Furthermore, it can suppress weeds and reduce soil erosion, contributing to sustainable farming practices and enhancing crop yields.

Are there any side effects associated with Velvet Bean?

While Velvet Bean has therapeutic properties, it can also have side effects, especially if consumed in large quantities. These may include symptoms like headaches, increased heart rate, and bloating. People with certain health conditions or those taking specific medications should consult a healthcare provider before using Velvet Bean supplements.

Can Velvet Bean be used as a food source?

Velvet Bean seeds contain high levels of protein and are edible when properly processed to remove toxins. In some cultures, the beans are roasted and ground into a flour, which is then used to make nutritious dishes. However, due to the presence of L-DOPA, consumption should be done with caution and awareness of potential health impacts.

How does Velvet Bean support biodiversity?

Velvet Bean plays a role in supporting biodiversity by providing a habitat for various insects and animals when used as a cover crop. Its flowers attract pollinators, while the dense foliage offers shelter for small creatures. This integration into crop systems can enhance ecological balance and promote a healthier environment.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and AllThingsNature contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.

Discussion Comments

By momothree — On Dec 30, 2010

@boathugger: Velvet bean seeds are taken internally in some areas, such as Brazil, to treat impotence, edema, and intestinal gas.

Indians have used velvet beans for a very long time to treat diarrhea, cough, snake bites, tuberculosis, rheumatic disorders, diabetes, and many other ailments. They are also found in many different weight loss formulas.

By christym — On Dec 27, 2010

@boathugger: It is said that velvet beans serve as diuretic, nerve tonic, and aphrodisiac. They are high in proteins, lipids, fiber, and carbohydrates. They also help in maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Velvet beans have been studied for their possible use in patients with Parkinson’s disease. In Central America, they are roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute. They are used as a vegetable in Guatemala.

By BoatHugger — On Dec 26, 2010

The shoots and beans can be eaten. As the article stated, the beans can be toxic to humans so they must be cooked properly. To do this, you need to soak them for up to 48 hours before cooking them. You should change the water out several times while cooking.

By DinoLeash — On Dec 23, 2010

What are some other uses of the velvet bean?

Alex Tree

Alex Tree

Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and AllThingsNature contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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