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Velvet Shelling Beans
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Velvet Beans are a culinary and medicinal crop grown in tropical regions throughout the world. The beans come in a variety of colors, from completely off-white to beautifully dappled patterns of black, brown, and white. Their flavor is very similar to that of peanuts.
Fresh Velvet Beans are available from Central America and India in spring, summer, and fall.
Velvet Beans are scientifically known as Mucuna pruriens and belong to the Fabaceae, or bean, family. The beans have a variety of common names throughout the world, nearly all of which refer in some way to the incredibly itchy hairs (or velvet) on the bean pod. In Sanskrit the plant is known as “kapkacchu,” or “one starts itching like a monkey,” and “atmagupta” or “secret self,” referring to the bean’s manifold medicinal properties.
Like many beans, Velvet Beans contain exceptionally high amounts of protein and are rich in dietary fiber.
Please note that Velvet Beans are toxic if prepared and used improperly, so the following instructions must be followed. Soak the beans overnight prior to cooking, strain, and boil in fresh water. Some recommend that the water in which they are boiled should be changed several times while others simply instruct that the water be discarded once the beans are fully cooked. Velvet Beans should not be eaten in large quantities as doing so can be toxic. Ghanaians consume only ten to fifteen beans per meal. Only the beans, and not their irritating pods, are eaten. Throughout the world Velvet Beans are used in a variety of different ways. In Ghana a traditional recipe for Velvet Beans is as follows: after soaking, the beans (10-15 per person) are cooked with chilies and onions. The beans are strained, water and the seed coats removed and discarded, and the remaining ingredients minced before the addition of warmed oil and salt. This thick stew is typically eaten with plantain, yam, or cocoyam. In Central America Velvet Beans are commonly prepared like coffee beans to create a non-caffeinated coffee alternative called “nescafe.” While Velvet Beans are edible and delicious in soups, they are perhaps best known for their healing effects, many of which are listed below. Those using the beans solely for medicinal purposes typically consume them in powdered or extracted form.
Velvet Beans have been an important part of Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India, since as early as 1500 BC. Ancient texts describe the beans being successfully used to treat kampavata, a disease similar to Parkinson’s. Today Parkinson’s patients throughout the world use Velvet Beans to alleviate their symptoms. While levodopa (L-dopa), the chemical responsible for the plant’s healing effects on Parkinson’s patients, has been isolated and widely prescribed in the pharmaceutical industry, some studies have shown that it is more effective when procured from Velvet Beans directly. Aside from its well-known reputation for helping Parkinson’s patients, it is also used in Ayurveda to treat a wide variety of conditions such as snakebite, achy muscles, and dysentery. Because Velvet Beans belong to the Fabaceous family they have nitrogen fixing roots which make the essential element available to crops. Please consult a doctor before using Velvet Beans medicinally, especially if you are already taking a pharmaceutical form of L-dopa.
Velvet Beans are found in several tropical regions throughout the world such as India, Africa, and much of Central America. They were brought to Central America in the late 1800’s. In Mexico and Guatemala they have become an important food, medicine, and cover crop. In Central America the beans are being increasingly used as an edible type of cover crop, meaning that they are planted to increase the fertility of an agricultural field. Because Velvet Beans belong to the Fabaceous family they have nitrogen fixing roots which make the essential element available to crops.