Classif. Nat. Order of Leguminose. Diadelphia decandria L.
Genus VICIA. Calyx tubular, bilabiate, upper lip notched, lower trifid. Corolla papilionaceous, vexillum notched, adpressed. Stamina 9, monadelphous, 1 free. Stigma bearded transversely below. Pod oblong polysperm, seeds round or compressed.
Sp. Vicia faba. L. Leaves without tendrils, with few folioles, ovate, entire, stipules sagittate, base toothed: flowers ternate sessile: pods erect, turgid, seeds compressed.
Description. Root annual. Stem erect, 2 to 5 feet high, flexuose terete, seldom branched. Leaves alternate, with sigittate acute stipules, toothed at the base, from 4 to 6 folioles, alternate sessile, ovate acute, entire, no tendrils. Flowers axillary, sessile, commonly ternate, or from 2 to 10 racemose, large, erect, oblong. white, with two fine black spots on the wings. Pods large, 3 to 8 inches long, oblong turgid, thicker above, membranaceous tomentose, end mucronate, from 3 to 8 large seeds, shaped like a bean, reniform compressed, thicker at both ends, of a bright brown color.
History. The genus Vicia requires revision; the species are more connected by habit than characters. This species hardly belongs to it; Brotero calls it Orobus faba; some botanists Faba sativa, restoring the genus Faba of the elder botanists. It must, at any rate, form a subgenus thus:
1. S. G. Faba. Pod oblong, swelled and turgid, seeds compressed reniform.
2. S. G. Vicia. Pod elongate compressed, seeds globular.
The Faba is the true Bean of the ancients, and not the Phaseolus. It is a native of Persia, but has been cultivated in Europe, from the most remote antiquity. It is cultivated also in the United States, the gardens of the North, or fields in the South, and I have seen it become spontaneous there. It is, however, not yet valued as it ought, and not given to horses, maize being used instead. It has many varieties, like all long cultivated plants: the best are hardly known with us. It blossoms in the spring; the flowers are very pretty and sweet scented. The varieties are: 1. Megasperma, tall plant, with long pods and seeds an inch long. 2. Equina, folioles ovate oblong, seeds elliptical. 3. Turgida. 4. Obtusifolia. 5. Rubra, with red seeds. 6. Media. 7. Nigra. 8. Racemosa. 9. Odoratissima. It is a valuable plant for farmers; it grows any where, never fails to give a good crop, an acre may produce 100 bushels of seeds and 10 tons of fodder. It is food for men and cattle, a delicacy when green, ornamental, medical, and improves the land as a manure.
Properties. The whole plant is useful, leaves, flowers, and seeds. As a fodder, it is equal to clover; horses and cattle eat it agreeably, fresh or dry. Buried by the plough, or burned on the ground, it improves it like manure. The flowers are a good cosmetic; their distilled water is fragrant and smoothens the skin. The green unripe seeds are a delicacy, similar to green peas, and as highly valued in Europe; in Italy they are eaten raw, with salt, or boiled and cooked in fifty ways. They are scarce in our markets, although as easily cultivated as peas. When ripe and dry, they become a little flatulent, but not more so than other beans; they form then the chief food of the Italian, Spanish and Greek peasantry, in soups, mush, olios, cakes, and other dishes; they are also roasted and eaten like chesnuts. The Greeks mix the flour with their black bread. By depriving the seeds of their thick skin, the inside is a tender farinaceous food. Barley and beans are the chief food of horses all over Asia, Africa and South Europe: oats and maize the substitutes with us, are by no means equally nourishing. The flour of beans is one of the four resolvent flours of the Galenic school, employed medically for poultices over tumors, swelled glands, imposthumes, and even cancer, to promote suppuration. The internal use is said to be useful in gravelly and nephitic complaints.
The Vicia sativa or Common Vetch, a native with us, is cultivated in Europe for fodder, and the small round seeds similar to Peas; it is also neglected as yet with us, and being inferior to Vicia faba, is not so commendable: it can, however, be cultivated broad cast, while the Bean requires to be drilled, unless it is wanted for mere fodder. We have several other species of native Vicia, V. craccoides, V. americana, V. caroliniana, all much liked by cattle, and whose cultivation might be attempted. My V. craccoides is the V. cracca of our botanists, but is very different from the European species.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, Vol. 2, 1830, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.