Native american runner beans

Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere

Scarlet Runner Beans

Phaseolus coccineus

By Jeremy Trombley

Origins and Description

Runner beans, the best known of which are the scarlet runners, are native to Mexico and Central America. There they have been used for centuries in both their wild and domesticated forms. The name refers to the fact that they are climbing plants and their brightly colored flowers. Runners are unusual among bean species because they are perennial in places where the ground doesn’t freeze and they climb in a clockwise direction.

Distribution and Use

Runners were used in many parts of the Americas before the arrival of Europeans. Native Americans consumed almost every part of the plant including the starchy root. It was first brought to Europe as an ornamental plant, but eventually found a place as a food resource as well. The beans can be eaten raw when young, but they are often sold in their mature form. In this latter case, they are often very tough and must be sliced before use – a process referred to as “frenching,” though only the young, tender pods are eaten in France. The seeds may also be dried and saved for later.

Varieties of runner beans are still grown ornamentally in many parts of Europe and the U.S. Their vibrant flowers, which come in a variety of colors make them an ideal ornamental food source. In fact, the flowers themselves are often eaten in salads.


Albala, Ken. Beans: A History. New York: Berg Publishers, 2007.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food 2nd Ed. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.

Perennial runner beans!!??

In their native Central America the runner bean is a perennial vine with a tuberous root. If you grow runners yourself you may have noticed the large tuberous root on some of the bean plants when removing the plants at the end of the season. Some years ago I forgot to dig up the beans at the end of the season or in the spring, in mid April I noticed some shoots growing from the base of one of the old vines. Over the next week or so several of the other old roots showed the same with some roots putting out up to 5 shoots. All these shoots grew into vigorous vines much earlier in the season than if planted from seed. I now routinely don’t remove the beans in autumn but leave them in the ground over winter snapping off the dried vines in January. Most years sometime in April or may between 1 in 4 and 7 out of 8 of the beans send up new shoots, any that don’t are replaced with new plants grow from saved seed.

The beans in the photos below are Painted Lady, grown against a south facing wall in a front garden in Sheffield at an elevation of approx 500 ft above sea level. High enough that it’s defiantly in the snow on higher ground bit of the weather forecast.

Photo to left taken 16/5/17, shows new shoots growing from old stems and root, this plant is in it’s 3rd year of growing back after winter, you can see the multiple stems it had last year. By 10/6 the beans are growing well and starting to climb the strings. Bean plant in 1st photo is the left hand one in the left photo below,the right photo is progress by 22/6.

Runner beans like all beans fix their own nitrogen and anything growing back from a tuber has a store of nutrients in that tuber however for best results a little feed never hurts. Around this time the beans were fed 10 ltrs twice a week for 3 weeks with Growers Ark soil food and Root tonic at 5ml/ltr and Boost it at 2ml/ltr. The plants were regularly watered throughout the season when needed

By 7/7 the beans are well into flowering and we have harvested the first few beans, photos below.

A few more photos taken on the 8/7 showing off the flowers.

These beans kept cropping up to early November, but we had a mild Autumn last year, they will usually keep cropping up until mid October, remember they are planted against a south facing wall.

Share this

  • Twitter
  • Email

You are free to share this article under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

University University of California, Davis

Scientists have sequenced the genome of the common bean, the world’s 10th-most common food crop.

The results are revealing new details about how the plants fix nitrogen, were domesticated, and how they resist disease.

(Credit: Grier Johnson/Flickr)

“The availability of this new whole-genome sequence for beans is already paying off,” says Paul Gepts, a plant scientist at University of California, Davis, who leads the bean-breeding program and is responsible for producing new varieties of common beans and lima and garbanzo beans.

Researchers are using the new sequence to confirm many earlier findings, including to identify the common bean’s two points of origin and domestication—one in the Andes and the other in the Mesoamerican area of Central America.

They also are working to identify genetic markers that will speed up efforts to breed new bean varieties in the United States, East Africa, and other countries.

The nitrogen connection

The common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, includes kidney, navy, string, and pinto beans. All of these well-known bean varieties share with the closely related soybean the highly valued ability to form symbiotic relationships with “nitrogen-fixing” bacteria in the soil.

Working together, the plants and bacteria convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into ammonia—which includes nitrogen in a form that enriches the soil and feeds crops. Nitrogen-fixing crop plants can actually reduce or eliminate the need for farmers to apply expensive fertilizers.

One of the goals of the sequencing project was to better understand the genetic basis for how such symbiotic relationships between nitrogen-fixing plants and bacteria are formed and sustained. This will be critically important for increasing crop yields for both fuel and food production.

The new sequencing identified a handful of genes involved with moving nitrogen around, which could be helpful to farmers who intercrop beans with other crops that don’t fix nitrogen.

Bean and soybeans

The common bean is thought to have originated in Mexico more than 100,000 years ago, but was actually domesticated separately at two different geographic locations in Mesoamerica and the southern Andes.

“This finding makes the common bean an unusually interesting experimental system because the domestication process has been replicated in this crop,” Gepts says.

The sequencing team compared gene sequences from pooled populations of plants representing these two regions and found that only a small fraction of the genes are shared between common bean species from the two locations. This supports the earlier finding that the common bean was domesticated in two separate events, one at each location, but distinct genes were involved in each event.

The researchers also discovered:

  • Dense clusters of genes related to disease resistance within the common bean’s chromosomes
  • Certain genes that are shared by both the common bean and the soybean, its most economically important relative
  • Evidence that the common bean’s genome evolved more rapidly than did the soybean genome, after the two species parted ways on the evolutionary pathway nearly 20 million years ago

The project was led by researchers at the University of Georgia, US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology, and North Dakota State University. The US Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture funded the research, which was detailed in an article published in Nature Genetics.

Source: UC Davis

Runner bean

Runner beans have been growing in South America for over 2000 years, and are a popular garden vegetable in Britain too. Stronger in flavour and coarser in texture than green beans, they are also much longer and have attractive purple beans inside the pods.


In season from June until November.

Choose the best

Look for young, crisp, tender beans inside firm, fresh-looking pods.

Prepare it

Top, tail and string runner beans by carefully sliding the knife into the top of the bean without cutting right through it; if a thick thread comes away, the beans will need to be stringed. The beans can then be sliced horizontally.

Store it

Use runner beans as soon as possible after buying as they don’t keep long. Keep in a paper bag in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Take a look at our guide on how to freeze runner beans if you want to preserve a batch.

Cook it

Boil runner beans until al dente.

How to cook runner beans:

Use up a glut of veggies from the garden with our best ever runner bean recipes. Turn this glorious green bean into salads, pasta dishes and exotic curries. Try our top 5 filling seasonal dishes to get you started.

1. Runner bean & prosciutto pasta

Take just five ingredients and create our creamy runner bean & prosciutto pasta. This simple recipe is a quick-fix midweek meal at its finest. It’s also easily doubled if you need to feed a crowd in a flash.

2. Sri Lankan runner bean curry

Serve up this Sri Lankan runner bean curry with rice and rotis for a top-notch family dish. This spiced vegan meal is deliciously creamy and full of flavour.

3. Runner bean & prawn paella

Embrace the very best summery flavours with our easy runner bean & prawn paella. This impressive looking dish is easy to make but special enough for a dinner party or weekend feast.

4. Charred courgettes, runner beans & ricotta

This vibrant veggie side is perfect for barbecue season. Charred courgettes, runner beans & ricotta are finished with edible flowers, a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of sea salt to enhance the flavours.

5. Cacio e pepe with runner beans

Turn an Italian classic into a fresh, summer pasta dish with our cacio e pepe with runner beans. The simple sauce is made with butter, black pepper and cheese. The runner beans add texture and bite.


Try broad bean or pea.

The runner bean is a little overlooked, probably because it just does too well. On allotments, you see rows upon rows of them. Sure, you can pickle or chutney them, they can be shredded and frozen, but they keep growing till the picker is exhausted. The vines quickly become laden with long, stringy pods. Every time I see them, I have an overwhelming desire to hang notes saying, “Open me up and see what’s inside”.

For if you open a scarlet-flowering mature runner bean, one too fat and long for eating, you will find the prettiest beans inside. These are a vibrant pink, often flecked with a rather good shade of deep violet purple. Once out of their protective wrapping they will age to a much more subdued pink; dried, these beans will store for months. They have a lovely flavour, a little meaty, like butter beans, but perfect for hearty winter dishes such as soups and stews. You can eat them fresh or dried (but never raw as they contain toxins which are broken down only by cooking).

It’s a peculiarly British thing to eat the pods. If you were to go to northern Europe or parts of America and try to persuade people to eat them they would think you were mad or trying to poison them.

The best runners for beans are the white-flowering varieties such as ‘White Lady’ (pictured) or ‘White Emergo’ or the heritage ‘Czar’. These have pure white beans that stay that way, whereas the scarlet beans turn brown when cooked.

The runner bean is a perennial plant. It is possible to keep the plants going for a second year in a mild winter: just let them die back naturally and cover with a thick layer of mulch, or dig them up and store somewhere sheltered in a large pot. The second year is often less productive, but you will get a crop long before any spring-sown plants. But watch out for slug damage.

If you’ve had fewer beans than you felt you should, this might be because of low rainfall and high temperatures. The beans have difficulty setting above 25C and need their roots to be somewhere moist and rich (hence why you plant them in a trench of semi-rotted compost). The runner bean ‘Moonlight’ is a cross between a french and runner bean. It has the productivity, large flowers and flatter pods of a runner, but the drought resistance and flavour of french beans. Thus it doesn’t mind dry conditions and high temperatures. The flowers are a pleasing creamy white, so if your beans don’t overwinter perhaps this is the one to go for next.

Alys on… dividing chives

You need to divide clumps of chives every four years or so, otherwise they’ll take over in a less than satisfactory manner. Sure, you’ll get lots of chives, but all are fairly small. Lift the clump and divide or cut into segments. Each should have a number of roots and leaves (you can give the leaves a bit of hair cut if necessary). Plant out the new clumps roughly 30cm apart. Divide and rule. Photograph: Gap photos

It’s important not to plant too close together as crowded plants often get leek rust. This often appears midsummer to late autumn. Leek rust, Puccinia allii, is a fungus that affects leek, garlic and chives. The rust produces bright orange raised spots on both sides of the leaves. Once the rust matures these spots open to distribute orange dusty spores. Cut back any chive plants with infected leaves.

Dark spots are a sign of resting spores and leaves with these on should not go on the compost. I’ve found that mouse garlic, Allium angulosum, is a good alternative to chives. It doesn’t seem to be affected by rust (in my garden at least), stays evergreen longer and has lovely flowers from July to August. It has a slightly garlicky flavour, but is not overpowering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *