Mucuna vine plants are tropical vines belonging to the Legume family or Fabaceae. The genus Mucuna includes some very interesting tropical vines. These vine plants are called lianas, which are woody vines that climb upward through the trees in the rain forest canopy. There are many species of Mucuna that can be found in the tropical regions of the world.
Mucuna Blossoms and Bats
The blossoms of these woody vines hang down into the canopy of the forest. These blossoms are easily reached by bats that inhabit the forest. The bats drink the nectar of the flowers, and as they go from flower to flower they pollinate the flowers. The pollinated flowers then produce seed pods.
The seed pods hang on long ropelike stems up in the rain forest canopy. Covering the seed pods are trichomes or minuscule hairs, which help to protect the seeds from predators. These microscopic hairs were used in the Caribbean and Central America to make a remedy for intestinal parasites. (The hairs were added to honey or syrup.) These seed pods contain hard seeds called "ojo de buey," because the seeds resemble a bull's eye. They are also called "sea beans." The seeds are extremely hard and impervious to water. Air cavities inside the seeds allow them to float in water. This is how they are able to travel down rivers, leading them to the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. Eventually they wash ashore onto sandy beaches of distant lands.
Mucuna pruriens is also known as cowitch, cowhage, velvet bean, cow-itch and buffalo bean. It is native to India and grows up to 30 feet. The trichomes that cover the seed pods can be very irritating to the skin. There are two to six seeds within each seed pod. In India it has been used to treat Parkinson's disease because the seed contains L-Dopa, and the L-Dopa is then used to make dopamine.
History of Mucuna Pruriens
This woody vine is native to the West Indies, India, tropical America, Africa and the islands of the Pacific. Historically the seeds had been used as an aphrodisiac. Today it is used to treat a variety of disorders such as erectile dysfunction, depression, nerves and Parkinson's disease, and to increase mental alertness.
Mucuna gigantean can be found in East Africa, India, China, Malaysia and the tropical islands of the Pacific. Early Hawaiians called them "peka'a" and used them as a violent cathartic and in leis and necklaces. The Mucuna gigantean vine has greenish-yellow blossoms.