Do you eat your broad bean greens?

Bountiful broad beans (Vicia faba). These big beans are a meal in themselves - fresh or dried they are delicious.  But did you know the leaves and flowers are scrumptious too?  

Broad bean greens, otherwise known as fava greens are a great winter green. I am really enjoying their abundant greens right now as my usual subtropical greens have slowed down in the cool weather. 

Fava leaf pesto is fabulous! I use the leaves fresh and cooked, and in just about everything.  It's a fresh 'fast food' too - something I nibble on right there in the garden while I'm pottering about.

The flowers are beautiful and delicious - bit like a mild pea flavour. 

Broad bean flowers 

A little history...

Fava beans are one of the oldest crops known. Archaeologiest found traces from Neolithic times (6000 years ago) in Israel. From there, they spread throughout the Mediterranean. Traces of fava beans have also been found in Egyptian tombs. These beans were also a major source of food for the Romans and Ancient Greeks. Now, they are common to many cuisines around the world, but often overlooked now. 

Fava Greens - leaves and shoots

The young growing tips are lovely in salad. They have a similar flavour to the beans and are tender and soft - also a bit like a pea shoot. 

You can use the leaves as a leafy green in things like stirfries, pasta dishes, quiches and soups. Lightly sautéing them with garlic and oil is great too. 

Knowing that the leaves are edible is super because it massively increases the food you see on these plants, and extends the length of harvest. Here too in the subtropics, it makes growing broad beans worthwhile. I wait and wait for the beans but always disappointed with my meagre harvest. They are definitely more of a temperate vegetable.

However, the fact that they are great for the soil as well as a producer of excellent winter greens and flowers makes them a welcome addition in my veggie garden.  

Broad bean flowers forming

Growing Broad Beans

In the subtropics, broad beans have just a short growing season. I planted mine directly into the bed where the corn had finished. I poked the big seeds in through drying corn leaves that I chopped and dropped, and after a few weeks tossed some compost under the mulch too. They are looking vibrant and healthy. So easy. When they are finished. I'll chop and drop them and plant in something for the next season.

In temperate areas broad beans are easy to grow too and are prolific croppers - loads of big green pods. When the weather cools off, plant them in a dense clump. They need each other, or staking, to hold them up once all their heavy pods form. 

Broad bean is a heavy cropping plant

In cooler climates you can keep the plants going much longer. You can chop them right back after they've produced a full crop of beans and let them grow again for a second bonus round.

Beautiful broad beans (Source: Organic gardener)

Harvesting leaves and shoots can prevent the plant from getting too leggy, but remember, too much trimming will make it focus on producing more foliage rather than beans, so perhaps stagger your harvest around the plot.  

In summary, here's five ways to eat versatile broad beans:

  1. Eat the young pods and seeds whole - raw or cooked
  2. Wait until pods are full size, shell them and eat the white seeds - best cooked
  3. Eat the flowers - raw is good
  4. Eat the green shoots - raw or lightly cooked
  5. Eat the green leaves - raw or lightly cooked

Note: Broad beans, like other class beans and some Brassica group vegetables, contain oxalic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in some vegetables, which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. People with known oxalate urinary tract stones are discouraged from eating vegetables belong to Brassica and Fabaceae family.

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