Fava bean plants need plenty of water

Fava bean plants need plenty of water in the dry season; if it is not available don't bother growing them.

Favas grow best in the cooler weather; in fact we rear them in the winter in South Africa along with peas. They don't thrive in hot, humid conditions. But that is our dry season so irrigation is imperative for tender, juicy beans.

Favas, Vicia Faba, are also known as broad beans. They are the only common source of L-dopa, the precursor of a very important neurotransmitter.

broad bean adult pods

Therein lies both a blessing and a danger. They have been shown to improve motor function in those suffering from Parkinson's disease; but if taking medication one can overdose producing severe motor agitation, profuse sweating and aggressive behaviour.

The pods easily dry out if the plants to not receive sufficient rainfall; they need to be watered deeply at least twice a week. If a ready supply of irrigation is not available during the dry months then it's best not to bother growing them.

Broad beans from just two plants

After harvesting regularly for several months, this huge supply of fava beans came from just two plants at the end of the season. After soyas they are the richest supply of vegetable protein for those who desire to eat less red meat.

They are also a rich supply of fibre, ideal for those suffering from constipation; provided one does not skin them, a common practice that is definitely not recommended. It raises the glycaemic index alarmingly. Generally like all legumes they are low GI.

Fava beans are not grown much in commercial agriculture, firstly because they require a cool and preferably dry climate and secondly because the plants must be staked and tied, a tiresome business. Most people have never seen or tasted them.

Also they can be very unpleasant, coarse and starchy, because fava bean plants need plenty of water right through the growing period. Without irrigation it's not worth the effort; yet they are our favourite legume.

They can produce a huge amount of valuable food for those suffering from malnutrition and stunting; just a cup of fava beans provides 40g of protein, more than enough for a growing child. They are also an enviable source of B vitamins and minerals such as calcium and potassium[2].

Nearly a half of children in many villages in South Africa are permanently stunted, mentally or physically; or both.

A calcium deficiency causes a very common condition, osteopaenia, especially amongst women; low potassium is involved in raised blood glucose, muscle cramps and mental confusion.

"They had harvested the first broad beans of the season that morning, and the Parkinson's patient reported that they were exceptionally tender and juicy that year due to abundant rainfall."

- Neurología[1]

It is not sensible to grow fava bean plants if only expensive water is available for irrigation from the utility. Those wanting to enjoy the enormous benefits of these precious legumes must consider harvesting and storing the rain for the dry season.

Plastic tanks are a possibility but we recommend an underground reservoir; it is both cheaper and the water remains very cold and is potable. That from the utility is often contaminated with plastic microparticles and a host of unwanted chemicals.

Brick reservoir

This brick reservoir for harvesting and storing the rain was built in just two weeks, including digging the hole by hand; it's not rocket science. It contains 27 kl for irrigation; fava bean plants need plenty of water.

reservoir complete

The size of the reservoir is obviously dependent on how much water is needed and how long the dry season is. If I was to do it again I would make it 2m deep and 5 metres in diameter.

Parkinson's disease

"Broad bean, a natural source of L-dopa prolongs “on” periods in patients with Parkinson's disease."

- Journal of movement disorders[4]

Scientists have shown that broad beans produce sufficient L-dopa to be pharmacologically active[3]. And it prolongs the "on" period in those patients with Parkinson's disease who are suffering from fluctuating dystonias.

The so-called "off period" dystonias early in the morning usually involve the lower limbs with the possibility of painful plantar flexion of the feet but dorsal movement of the great toe.

During the "peak dose" period the dystonias tend to affect the mouth, face and neck[4]. Broad beans provide a natural source of L-dopa that smooths out these chorean movements.

Overdosing with fava beans

Cases have been described in the literature where patients suffering from Parkinson's disease, who were on medication, ate a large quantity of favas producing severe adverse symptoms[3]. It is to be noted that there is even more L-dopa in the young beans and pods.

100 g of young green broad beans, a little over half a cup, may contain as much as one hundred milligrams of L-dopa. The literature has many cases of significant improvement in motor symptoms.

For fava beans to be used as a medicine in the control of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease we recommend freezing[5] them to put up a supply for the whole year.

Staggered planting of fava bean seeds will supply fresh L-dopa for four or five months; for the rest of the year you would be dependent on the frozen beans.

I would recommend starting with five mature beans, morning and evening, or one young green pod eaten whole. Make exact notes of the dose and how the patient reacts during the day. Gradually increase taking perhaps a teaspoon of broad bean hummus every hour once the most beneficial amount has been established.

Remember you are using your favas as a drug; the timing and dosage are both very important. Some reports state that over half of those suffering from Parkinson's disease can go off all medicine, with improved control, supplying their needs for L-dopa entirely from the beans and their young pods. Obviously this has to be done mindfully; by a family member usually.

The preservatives in processed meat have been fingered as one of the possible causes of this oft horrific neurodegenerative condition. It affects nearly 2% of people over 65 and the prevalence is increasingly rapidly, even faster than Alzheimer's disease. It has to do with lifestyle and probably the chemicals used to preserve and flavour our food.

Broad bean hummus

Since mature favas tend to become quite fibrous and chewy we recommend turning the frozen older seeds into a broad bean hummus, instead of the more conventional chickpeas. Blending them thoroughly breaks down this slightly unpleasant feature; they are an excellent source of fibre for the friendly flora in the gut. 

On one final note, because Parkinson's disease often affects the patient's mental acuity, it is to be recommended that a family member grow the broad bean plants remembering they need plenty of water; and supply the correct dose on a regular basis through the day.

One needs to apply one's mind to this, remembering that the young seeds and their pods contain even more L-dopa, early in the season, but the broad bean hummus would contain less.

Fava bean plants need plenty of water

Fava bean plants need plenty of water during the growth period.


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Our newsletter is entitled "create a cyan zone" at your home, preserving both yourself, the family and friends, and Mother Earth for future generations. We promise not to spam you with daily emails promoting various products. You may get an occasional nudge to buy one of my books!

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  • Nature is calling
  • Mill your own flour
  • Bake your own sourdough bread
  • Microplastics from our water
  • Alternative types of water storage
  • Wear your clothes out
  • Comfort foods
  • Create a bee-friendly environment
  • Go to bed slightly hungry
  • Keep bees
  • Blue zone folk are religious
  • Reduce plastic waste
  • Family is important
  • What can go in compost?
  • Grow broad beans for longevity
  • Harvest and store sunshine
  • Blue zone exercise
  • Harvest and store your rainwater
  • Create a cyan zone at your home

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