Mucuna pruriens, also commonly known as velvet bean or cowitch, is a shrubby legume with a vining growth habit. Mucuna's white and purple flowers bloom on panicles. The plant produces long furry bean pods or fruit that are coated with mucunain and serotonin, which can cause a severe allergic reaction if the pods come into contact with the skin. Native to tropical Africa, the Caribbean and India, Mucuna pruriens is used in herbal medicine and is grown as a green cover crop.
Herbal Medicine Uses
Mucuna roots are used in Ayurvedic medicine as a diuretic, emollient, stimulant, aphrodisiac and tonic. It is considered useful to relieve constipation, dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea, severe swelling, consumption, ulcers, fever and delirium. The leaves are used as potherbs for boiling, steaming and smoking and are thought to alleviate inflammation and discomfort associated with ulcers and swelling. Though the furry pods or hairs can cause blistering, severe itching and dermatitis if touched, when combined with honey they are used as a vermifuge or intestinal deworming agent. When prepared as an ointment, the hairs act as a vesicant or blistering agent. The seeds are used in various preparations as an astringent, laxative, tonic and aphrodisiac.
Green Manure Crop
Mucuna pruriens is grown in India and other locations as a cover crop or green manure crop because of its nitrogen-fixing properties. Its seeds are sown in fields between plantings of harvest crops to protect the soil and prevent weed growth. When used as a green manure crop and then tilled into the soil, it regenerates and raises the nutrient content of the surrounding soil, benefiting future crops.
Famine Food Source
During famine conditions, Mucuna pruriens beans are charred to remove the hairy coating. The interior legumes are boiled at length to remove the toxins and then either ground into a grain flour-like substance or eaten cooked with other ingredients.