A couple of years ago Andy got me to go out into his fava bean field to help harvest beans and to create a support system for the heavier stalks. He was very excited about his first crop of fava beans—with good reason but we’ll get to that in a minute—and wanted to show off a bit.
It was a beautiful sunny day so we took our time out there in the field. We filled a large basket with young fava beans and we staked up the immature stalks, which were heavy with white flowers. But after a couple of hours we both began to feel a bit strange. We had become extremely giggly, a bit light headed and it was getting hard to think straight. Do those symptoms sound familiar to any of you? Hmmm?
That’s right. We were getting high off of the fava beans. Later, Andy’s brother-in-law, a botanist, confirmed our experience saying that fava bean flowers were hallucinogenic and that we might have a mild headache later.
All that is to say, if you follow my advice and grow some fava beans in your garden this year be sure to limit your exposure to the flowers. And no, I cannot find any supporting evidence that fava beans can make you high, but let my personal experience serve as a warning.
Now. Onto the good things about fava beans:
I’ve written about fava beans before, in terms of a ground covering or “green manure” in the fall because they make great nitrogen fixers, but fava beans (also known as broad beans) are also very nutritious and tasty to eat. If you’re interested in growing fava beans now is the time to start thinking about it.
February and March are the ideal planting times for fava beans intended for consumption. This allows them to mature through the summer, peaking around late July or early August in most climates. However, if you live in some of the hotter areas of the US (looking at you Southwest) you may have better luck growing the beans over the winter as they do not tolerate extreme heat very well.
Direct sow the beans, about two inches deep and four to six inches apart. Don’t go overboard planting—one plant can easily yield 50 pounds of beans. However, once the seeds begin to sprout you should thin them out, putting eight to 12 inches in between each plant. As the plants mature you are going to need to stake them to help them hold themselves up.
Fava beans taste best when they are young, and you can eat the entire pod along with the bean, raw. Older beans will need to be peeled and cooked. Pan roasted with a little salt is my favorite way to eat them, by the handful or sprinkled in salads, on rice, or in soups.
And remember—if you’re working in the beans and start to feel light-headed, or begin to notice a mild headache, you should take a break—just in case.
Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.