Dragon tongue bush bean

Dragon Tongue Bush Beans

I started pulling some of my fading summer crops the other week, including what was one of my favorite plants of the whole season — the delicious and distinctive Dragon Tongue bush bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), a Dutch heirloom introduced in the 18th century.

I admit that I have a bias for purple plants in the garden. I love how the vibrant color just pops out against a monochromatic sea of grass, kelly, hunter and lime.

And with beans, sometimes it can feel like a neverending Easter egg hunt when you’re harvesting those long green pods camouflaged among long green vines.

Dragon Tongue bush beans, on the other hand, dangle like disco Christmas ornaments on compact bushes about 2 feet tall. The tender pods grow 6 to 7 inches long, with lavender to deep purple mottling on their pale yellow shells.

I like to get more bang for my buck and will sometimes let the beans grow even longer, up to 8 inches. Though more mature at this stage, the beans remained tender and stringless with full flavor.

The purple color fades a bit when cooked, as most purple beans do, but I prefer to eat the Dragon Tongue raw — it looks beautiful in salads. It is sweet and loaded with flavor, which is rare to say for a lowly bean. Even my non-gardening, non-foodie friends can’t believe, firstly, that this is a “green” bean, and secondly, how fresh and sweet it tastes.

The plants produced well throughout the summer, enough to keep me busy picking beans every day… I almost couldn’t keep up with the yields from six plants! Though those initial plants are now in the compost pile, I succession-sowed a second crop mid-summer, so I’m looking forward to even more delectable pods in a few weeks!

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by Heidi Strawn May 18, 2015

I first encountered the Dragon’s Tongue bean several years ago on a work trip to the West Coast. While exploring the expansive community gardens of San Francisco and Seattle, I noticed a very distinctive yellowish wax bean with purple flecks and stripes being grown in many plots. At a cooking demonstration hosted by a local farmers market later that week, I was able to match those mystery beans to the name Dragon’s Tongue (Phaseolus vulgaris), a relatively well-known Dutch (or possibly French) heirloom cultivar that dates to the late 18th or early 19th centuries.

Also known as Dragon Langerie, Dragon’s Tongue is a bush-type bean with purple flowers. It produces gorgeous yellowish-green beans with bright-purple mottling. The waxy string-less pods reach 6 to 8 inches long at maturity and have superior flavor. They can be harvested young and eaten in their entirety or left on the plant to dry until the seeds rattle in the pod. The fully dried beans display the same amazing colors and can be saved for use in a range of dishes from soups to rice and beans. The freshly harvested young beans can be eaten raw, steamed, stir-fried or even pickled. The cooked beans will lose most of their stunning purple mottling but not their culinary appeal. I tend to eat the sweet young beans raw in salads or in other side dishes so that I can enjoy the striking visual appeal of the beans with my meals.

Growing Dragon’s Tongue beans is relatively simple. Plant the beans in rows with seeds set at 1 inch deep and spaced every 3 to 4 inches. Water generously and uses light mulching to help hold moisture around the beans’ shallow root system. As with many crops, it is good idea to avoid watering the foliage, which can encourage disease to set in.

Mature plants will reach a maximum height of 2 to 3 feet without support. After flowering, young beans are ready to harvest sometime between 12 to 15 days. Eat within the first three days to ensure decent flavor and texture. Common pests to the Dragon’s Tongue bean, like many other bean cultivars, include Mexican bean beetles and bean weevils.

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Dragon Tongue Beans: So Much More than a Pretty Face!

I’ll admit, Dragon Tongue beans had two initial points of appeal for me: the fantastic name, and the lovely golden-yellow color, liberally streaked with purple. It turns out that those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons to grow this fantastic bean!

As a parent, I involve my kids in every aspect of our garden, from the planning and planting, to the harvesting, preserving, and consuming of the produce. When I first read about Dragon Tongue beans, my first thought was that my kids would be all over any plant that included the words “Dragon Tongue.” Both are fans of fantasy and science fiction books, so dragons are a subject of fascination for them. Beans are also a favorite vegetable in our household, so that was two counts in their favor. When I read more about them, and learned that they are a wax bean, I knew my husband would approve, as he prefers wax beans to green beans any day. Then I saw a picture, and I fell in love! The pods were long and narrow, a delicate golden color mottled with streaks of purplish-brown. They immediately found a place in my garden plan!

These Dragon Tongue beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, are a bush-type stringless wax bean. Like most bush-type beans, they achieve a height of 18-24 inches, and form compact, bushy mounds. They may take 60-100 days from planting to harvest. Figure on closer to 60 days for use as a fresh bean, and 100 days if you plan to let them mature on the plant to use as a dry shelling bean. I didn’t plant nearly enough last year, as it was our first trial with these beans, and I wanted to see how they performed before committing a large portion of our garden to them. They were quite productive, and the beans formed were nearly as tall as the plants themselves! They also didn’t seem as prone to the fungal rust spots as other wax beans I’ve grown in the past.

Dragon Tongue Beans are an heirloom variety, originating in the Netherlands, and are open-pollinated. In short, this means you can allow the beans to mature on the vine and save some seeds to plant next year. Unlike hybrids, which may have sterile seeds, or may produce offspring very unlike the parent plant from which you collected the seeds, open pollinated plants will produce seeds that will be the same variety. I like to grow heirloom vegetables when possible and do my part to maintain plant diversity, as long as the heirloom varieties perform in my central Illinois garden. These plants were great performers, and seemed just as disease resistant and drought tolerant as any other beans I’ve grown. In fact, they were less bug-eaten than my other variety of wax beans, so that was clearly a point in their favor.

I’ve had some difficulty growing beans the past few seasons, which has been disappointing. I’m sure the weather is partly to blame, as I’ve had very poor germination in the past few soggy springs, and our bumper crop of rabbits managed to mow down whatever beans managed to make their way through to the surface. The next year, the Dragon Tongue beans, however, had great germination. I had only a few gaps in my rows where one didn’t come up, and it was easy enough to go through and poke a few individual seeds in to fill the spaces. It is difficult to know how much this is a reflection of the difference in weather and garden conditions from year to year, and how much this is a reflection of the vitality of the seed, but it passed my first test!

The beans were also quite productive, and continued producing pods as long as I kept picking them! One of the advantages of Dragon Tongue beans is that they can be used as either fresh beans with edible pods, if picked young, or as dried beans if they are allowed to mature on the plant. My family is not overly fond of dried beans, so we picked them regularly to encourage a prolonged harvest. If you intend to eat them as fresh beans, just pick them while the pods are still young and tender, before the seeds inside have swollen and filled out the pod.

In the past, we have usually cooked our green and wax beans, and frequently froze or canned them. Our only disappointment in Dragon Tongue beans is that they do not maintain their mottled, streaked appearance when cooked. Instead, they revert to a creamy yellow color, and look very similar to standard waxed beans. The flavor and texture is amazing, however. Even when my attention wandered and I left them in the steamer much longer than I intended, they retained a crisp texture and didn’t get mushy. They were better than many beans for canning for this reason. I’ve begun freezing most of our beans, because I prefer how they retain their bright color and texture, but these beans fared well with both canning and freezing.

The upside to their color loss when cooked is that it encouraged us to step outside our comfort zone and look for ways to use this bean raw, so we could take full advantage of the appealing colors. We found that they added a nice touch to lettuce salads and vegetable trays, and were a real hit with kids when we put them on a relish tray with carrots, peppers, cherry tomatoes, and sugar snap peas. Everyone wanted those streaky dragon beans! I also experimented with marinating the raw beans in vinaigrette dressings, which were a hit with the pickle-loving half of my family. The vinegar-challenged members didn’t care for that presentation as well, but I think it is good to try new things periodically! I had hoped that a quick stir-fry would retain the color, but found that even minimally cooking them meant a loss of color. The flavor was exceptional, and the golden color of the cooked beans still added a nice contrast to the other vegetables in the stir-fry. It was entertaining to try different ways of preparing them, and note the results!

If you have never ventured beyond the old standard favorite green beans, I’d encourage you to give Dragon Tongue beans a try. You just might find a little magic in your veggie garden after all!

Images courtesy of PlantFiles

History Of Dragon Tongue Beans

The name alone, Dragon Tongue bean plant, makes me want to grow these babies, but if that doesn’t entice you to grow them, then maybe the fact that they are a dual use bean will. What does “dual use” mean? We’ll get to that; let’s indulge in a little history of Dragon Tongue beans first.

History of Dragon Tongue Beans

Dragon Tongue bean plants were first cultivated in the Netherlands in the 18th century and are a member of the Fabaceae family, as are peas and pulses (dry beans). Also known as Dragon Langerie beans, this bean varietal is a knockout with a creamy yellow interior and a dazzling, purple striated exterior. Beans attain an average of 6 inches in length and bear 4-6 seeds per stringless pod. The entire bean can be eaten raw or cooked, but if you expect to retain that brilliant color, think again. Cooked beans lose their gorgeous hues.

Back to growing Dragon Tongue bush beans as a dual use bean. These open pollinated heirloom beans can be eaten young, in their entirety as a fresh snap bean, or pods can be harvested when fully mature for shelling beans. Seeds are firm, slightly starchy, sweet and nutty. This “romano” or wax type bush bean is less fibrous than other snap beans.

The eye popping color of Dragon Tongue beans is sure to be a conversation starter on the crudités platter, or they make a delicious side dish. Great in stir fries, bean salads and especially suited for pickling. Beans can be stored in plastic in the fridge for about one week; use ‘em or lose ‘em!

Growing Dragon Tongue Bush Beans

These guys have been naturalized in a variety of climates throughout North and into South and Central America, so it adapts to a wide range of heat and humidity levels. They tend to have a high yield with a superior flavor over other fresh bean types. Now that I have piqued your interest, I’m sure you will want to know how to grow your own Dragon Tongues.

If you can grow typical beans, then you can grow these. Direct sow Dragon Tongue seeds after all danger of frost has passed to a depth of one inch, 2 inches apart in rows 36-48 inches apart in full sun exposure. Harvest the beans between 55-60 days. Leave beans on to mature if desirous of dried beans. The more often you harvest, the bigger your yield will be. Plants will be 24-30 inches tall.

Dragon Tongues are delicious simply steamed and tossed with butter or olive oil and cracked pepper and kosher salt, or you can step it up a notch and blanch, then sauté with an accompanying flavor such as a bit of garlic or shallot and crispy pancetta. Combining these guys with buttery Yellow Finn potatoes, steamed and cooled, then tossed in mustard vinaigrette is mmm-mmm good too. Or make pickled green beans to prolong your enjoyment of this luscious bean variety or to give as gifts that will titillate your friends and make them want to grow Dragon Tongue heirlooms.

Kitchen Garden Seeds

Gardening Tips

Just because legumes are known to improve the soil in which they grow, it does not mean that they needn’t be planted in good soil themselves. This is especially true of Beans. If you dig in well-rotted manure at the time of planting, your bean plants will grow better, be more free from disease and give you a better yield.
Beans Sowing Instructions
Planting Depth: 1″
Row Spacing: 18″-36″
Seed Spacing: 3″-4″
Days to Germination: 6-10 days
Germination Temperature: 60°-80°F

Beans love sun and well-draining, fertile soil. Plant Beans when the soil has warmed to 60°F and all danger of frost has passed. Amend the soil as needed with organic fertilizer, compost and/or well-aged manure. Cool, wet weather may necessitate a second planting: bean seeds rot in cold, damp soil. After planting, do not water until the sprouts emerge, unless it is very hot and dry. After emergence, and throughout the season, avoid watering the foliage. Water as needed by soaking the soil around the Beans and fertilize with kelp or fish emulsion as needed.

For Pole Beans, provide support with rough poles, teepees, netting or a trellis. Harvest when the Beans are young, slim and on the small side for the best eating! It is vital to keep Beans picked regularly since seed formation slows and eventually halts production. Sow Bush Beans every 10 to 15 days until 2 months before the first frost date in the fall for continuous yields.

A mainstay of the kitchen garden, homegrown Beans outshine those that are store-bought in their delicious, just-picked flavor, crisp-tender texture and rich vitamin content.
Beans Show Their Colors
My favorite use for purple-podded Beans is to pick them while slim and tender, along with green and yellow ones, and arrange all three on a platter with a hummus dip.
Beans, Beans & More Beans
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