A staple in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes, lupine beans come from the flowering legume Lupineus albus, or white lupine. Farmers also use lupines to provide cattle forage and as a “green manure” to add nitrogen to the soil. Use lupine beans as you would any dried bean, although some varieties might need to be processed more extensively than kidney or garbanzo beans. The terms lupine bean and lupine seeds are used interchangeably.
The annual flowering legume features spikes of white, blue or purple flowers above ground. The beans grow in seed pods, about three to six beans per pod. The beans look a bit like corn seeds, with pale yellow coloring and a dented, flattened shape.
Lupines, whether field grown or nurtured in the flower garden, require cool climates, according to Purdue University. The legumes prefer well-drained, neutral to slightly acid soil. Lupines tolerate light frosts. Minnesota farmers plant lupine crops in mid-April in order for the plants to complete their flowering process before the hottest days. For maximum bean production in the field or home garden, set lupines as close as six plants per square foot. Harvest the beans in late summer.
Be extremely careful about which lupine variety you grow for cooking or livestock grazing. Look for the common name “sweet white lupine.” Other lupine varieties may contain a high level of alkaloids, leading to mild or severe food poisoning. Low-alkaloid varieties of the white lupine were bred specifically for safe cattle grazing in the 1920s. If you’re unsure what kind of lupine bean you have, boil and soak the beans to reduce the bitter alkaloids. It’s easy to determine whether the beans might be unsafe for eating, notes the online botanical database Plants For A Future. “Taste is a very clear indicator,” the site says. “If the seed is bitter this is due to the presence of toxic alkaloids and the seed should be thoroughly leached by soaking the seed and discarding the soak water before cooking them."
Basic Leaching Directions
To remove the bitter taste and potentially dangerous alkaloids from lupine beans, cover the beans with cold water for at least 12 hours. Drain and put them in a pot with enough water to cover them. Cook at low heat for two hours. Drain the beans once more, cover with cold water, add 2 tbsps. of table salt, and leave them to soak at room temperature. Drain them and add new water and salt twice a day for a week. Once the beans no longer taste bitter, store them, in salted water, in the refrigerator.
A traditional food crop in the Middle East, lupines are believed to have been cultivated at least 2,000 years ago in Egypt. Add lupine beans to chilies and other savory bean dishes. Alternatively, roast and grind the dry beans for use as a coffee substitute or as flour for baking. Pickled lupine beans, similar to olives, are a favorite Middle Eastern snack. Commercial manufacturers are beginning to add ground lupine beans to cereals and breads to boost their fiber content. Lupines contain potassium, magnesium and zinc but are not as rich in amino acids as other legume varieties.
As with other legumes, lupines add nitrogen to the soil, making them good companions for heavy nitrogen-feeders such as squash or lettuce. Alternatively, plant them on next year's garden beds or fields as a cover crop. Till the flowers into the soil before they set seed. The plants also add height and color to flower gardens.
The staggering variety of uses for which the lupine might serve was once put to the test by a German professor, according to the herbal database “A Modern Herbal.” In 1917, a certain Dr. Thomas threw a “lupine banquet” for select guest. The evening was described this way: “At a table covered with a tablecloth of Lupine fibre, Lupine soup was served; after the soup came Lupine beefsteak, roasted in Lupine oil and seasoned with Lupine extract, then bread containing 20 per cent of Lupine, Lupine margarine and cheese of Lupine albumen, and finally Lupine liqueur and Lupine coffee. Lupine soap served for washing the hands, while Lupine-fibre paper and envelopes with Lupine adhesive were available for writing.”