Beans originated in Central and South America and began to be cultivated in Mexico over 2,000 years ago. In North America today, there are over 4,000 different kinds of beans. All beans appear to originally have been climbing beans, but over the centuries, low growing plants were selected that have become our modern day dwarf varieties. Today almost all commercially grown beans are dwarf because of the ease of mechanical harvesting. The Trust’s focus, however, is on the higher producing climbing varieties with only a few dwarf varieties grown. Several of the Trust’s climbing varieties are shade-tolerant and have been traditionally grown (in North America) amongst corn crops, where they could use the corn stalks to climb up. Beans grown in this way have been a wonderful protein source; rich in minerals and a superb complement to corn in the diet.
Beans belong to the legume family, and as such can fix nitrogen in the soil, which is one of the most important ingredients for plant growth; they also contain soluble fibre which is beneficial in controlling cholesterol and diabetes. Beans are what nutritionists call a “slow release food”, which is one that is slowly digested and absorbed which is a plus for people with insulin resistance.
The Trust’s experience with researching other foods indicates that traditional varieties of beans will contain higher levels of beneficial health compounds than modern, commercially bred cultivars. Ultimately what we eat is inextricably connected with our health and knowing this, our prime focus is on finding the very best varieties that we can, for the present and future health of all people. Secondly the changing climate conditions globally are being felt with unpredictable and extreme weather occurrences here. For our own food security we need to be self-reliant and have available varieties that we know grow well in different climatic conditions. The Hopi Indian varieties that the Trust has obtained are one example of beans that can tolerate low rainfall, semi-desert conditions, and have thrived for centuries under their Native American stewardship.
Much of what we seek to enable us to sustain future generations has been known and practiced by traditional cultures for millennia. Our task is to rediscover that past knowledge to give us the foundation that we need to move forward into our future.
The Great New Zealand Bean Hunt
The Heritage Food Crops Research Trust has undertaken a project to find all the different varieties of Heirloom Beans growing in New Zealand. These old and quite often rare seeds will have superior nutritional properties when compared to modern hybrid varieties. These seeds are important for the medicinal health of current and future generations and need to be preserved. We have undertaken to find these varieties and save them and distribute them to the community.
If anyone in New Zealand has an old variety of bean that they would like to share (whether it be a climbing bean, a Runner, a dwarf or a Broad bean) we would be very pleased to hear from you. Beans may be sent to Heritage Food Crops Research Trust, 126A Springvale Road, Whanganui 4501, and we can be contacted by this address; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or using the contact form on this website.
If anyone outside of New Zealand has information on beans (whether relating to health, growing, or particular varieties) then we would also be very interested to hear from you.
Climbing Beans imported from North America
Apache Red Bean
High yield of red seeds, similar to kidney beans. The pods turn bright red to signal the green shellout stage for succotash. The dry beans can be used for soup or chilli. There is an initiative underway to reintroduce this variety back to Native American farmers.
Climbing dry bean, but also an excellent green bean. From Lenape tribe in Delaware, USA, and preserved among Quaker farmers. Vines will grow 6-7 feet with rose-pink flowers, pods turning purple when ripe, seeds blue, blue-black when dried. Also known as the “Treaty Bean”. Very attractive plant and beans. Pods are small but are an excellent green bean that is also very cold tolerant in Spring.
Cherokee Cornfield Bean
A traditional variety, with various attractive earth tone shades and markings. Very good yields especially when grown up corn stalks. The story goes that the various colours must be grown together or else there will be few flowers. Much like a family they are stronger when kept together. Excellent as a green snap or dry bean. A drought-tolerant variety.
Cornplanter Purple Bean
An heirloom from the Seneca Indians (also known as Black Snake). Black seeds. The pods turn purple as they mature. A very versatile bean. Young beans can be used as snap beans as well as becoming a very good shellout and dry bean.
Fat Goose Bean
Shocking pink pods at green shellout stage. A dry bean with long brown seeds.
Flat and shaped like a lima bean, with black and white streaks. Very productive and cooks quickly for soups and stews. A very good dry climbing bean. Extremely rare. Originated with the Iroquois Indians.
Flor de Mayo
Flor de Mayo means ‘Flower of May’ in Spanish. This highly productive climbing bean produces an abundance of seed for use as a fresh shelling bean or as a dried legume. Lovely pink seeds. Used in Mexico in refried bean recipes and other Mexican dishes.
Genuine Cornfield Bean
Also known as Scotia, or Striped Creaseback, or Rattlesnake. A traditional variety cultivated by the Iroquois Indians who used it as a corn soup bean and bread bean. A shade-tolerant variety that is good for growing up corn stalks. A valuable variety for keeping nitrogen in your corn crop. The pods are tender, meaty and keep well. The seed is buff with brown mottles and stripes. Good as a snap or green shellout bean. Produces very well under conditions of high heat.
Gold of Bakau
4-inch pods with 3-4 large grey seeds. Heavy production.
Good Mother Stallard
An heirloom climbing bean from the Midwestern United States. A large oval seed with maroon and white colourings. A very productive, drought-resistant variety. Wonderful rich meaty flavour, great for soups and chillis. Just this with some onion, garlic and a little olive oil and you will have a superb meal.
Hidatsa Shield Figure Climbing Bean
An ancient variety that originated with the Hidatsa Indians of the Missouri River Valley of North Dakota. This is one of the most productive dry beans and has an excellent flavour. This is the beautiful bean that inspired our project.
Climbing dry bean that yields well. A folkrace variety that was collected from Hotevilla in Hopiland.
Hopi Black Pinto (“Maawiw ngwu”)
Heavy yielding climbing beans with black streaks on off-white background. This variety is very drought tolerant but not shade tolerant. The green beans remain tender even when the seeds form and have a fine flavour and texture.
Hopi Light Yellow
Large, light yellow-beige beans from Hopi Indian collections at Hotevilla. Also called “grease beans”, plants are somewhat early-maturing pole beans. High-yielding, with good green beans.
Hopi Purple String Bean
Ancient climbing bean that was used by the Anasazi cliff dwellers at Mesa Verde. Can be used as a green bean, shell-out or as a dry bean. According to Mary Ami (a Hopi lady who runs a produce stand in Hopiland), she said that Hopis always have her send seed of this variety to them, wherever they go. Beautiful purple seed with black stripes.
Indian Hannah Bean
A very rare cutshort bean from the Lenape/Delaware Indian Nation (also known as Lenape Cutshort or Delaware Cutshort). Small tan seed with brown markings, packed tightly into the pods, good yield.
Also known as Amish Knuttle, Colorado River Bean, Flor de Mayo, or Red Nightfall. Beautiful off-white seeds, splashed with maroon colour that looks like it has been spraypainted on. The original seed is said to have arrived in America via the pilgrims on the Mayflower ship in 1620. Used predominantly as a dry bean.
Ohio Pole Bean
An Ohio bean of Native American origin, possibly connected to the Native American Kickapoo tribe around Fort Wayne, in the 1790’s. Large pods on disease-resistant, hardy, vigorous vines. The seed is purple with white speckles. Used as a dry bean.
Stunning red climbing Lima variety.
Peruvian Goose Bean
A rare heirloom variety. Smooth texture, mild flavour and thin skin. Good for soups, baked beans, and hot dishes. A wax bean with brown and white patterned seeds.
Ojo de Cabra (“Goats Eye” from the Tarahumara region of Mexico)
High yielding climbing bean producing seeds with dark stripes over a speckled light background. A diversely coloured bean with stripes ranging from brown and tan to blue-grey and black. An absolutely delicious dry bean. With the addition of onions and garlic, it can make a wonderful meal. Can be used as Pot beans, Chillis, salads, or in stews.
Large purple and white beans from central and southern Tarahumara country in Chihuahua, Mexico. Purple pattern radiating outward from the seed “eye” across a white background.
Price Family Cherokee heirloom dating back to the 1830’s. Vines, flowers and pods are royal purple. Light cream coloured seeds when dried. Better as a dry bean than a snap bean.
Seneka Speckled Bird Egg
Prolific producer of green beans. The dry seed is round and speckled tan. This is a climbing bean.
High-yielding climbing bean with gorgeous large, shiny, deep-purple seeds. Sweet taste, smooth texture. This variety produces both white and lilac flowers. From the high arid Mesa de Agostadero, Chihuahua.
Tarahumara Dark Purple
A very unusual deep purple bean, with a few grey and dark red types mixed in. A Climbing bean with dark lilac flowers and colourful pods, from near Panalachi, Chihuahua, Mexico.
Vigorous growing climbing bean. Pods are 3.5-4 inches long with 4 to 7 beans. Good for bottling or drying. Beans are frosted buff with brown on one end. The name comes from a story that a hunter shot a turkey and found the seed in its craw. The seed was planted and saved. A green bean that can also be used as a dry bean. Heirloom from Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Tuskarora Bread Bean
This is an heirloom variety that was originally passed on from a Tuscarora elder – the Tuscarora are one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (aka Iroquois). The beans are a cooking bean. They can be used in any bean dish like chili, but they are specifically used by the Tuscaroras for making a traditional corn bread with beans in it. This bread is made by boiling a mix of corn flour and beans. To see one of the recipes Click Here. https://www.pbs.org/food/native-america/discover-traditional-cherokee-bean-bread/ You can also find many other variations by googling Cherokee Bean Bread Recipe. This is a dry or shellout bean that in Whanganui is dwarf, but in northern New Zealand it is a weak climber.
Yoeme Purple String
A prolific climbing bean from Mexico that can be eaten green or as shelled. Seeds are purple on beige. Plants are heat tolerant.
Yellow Indian Woman Dry Twining Bean
This bean is incredibly creamy, almost more like a classic black turtle bean than anything else. It’s dense without being intense, if that makes sense. It’s thought to be originally from Montana, known for its short growing season. Small, dense yet velvety bean that holds its shape and provides a rich bean broth. Cook them with a simple mix of aromatic vegetables (celery, carrot, onion, garlic), a little olive oil and a bay leaf for an incredible pot of beans. Use the beans in salads, chilis, or even as a spread. They won’t fall apart so you could even use them in classic baked beans if that’s your desire. They can also be used for soup, like split peas. In Whanganui this bean grows like a dwarf bean, but in northern New Zealand it is a climber.
Zuni Shalako Bean
A beautiful and unusual heirloom variety from Mexico. Also called the Prairie Appaloosa or Raquel bean. A dry bean, with a twining habit (ie. A weak climber).
Other Annual Climbing Beans In our Collection
Adzuki Climbing Bean
These beans came to us identified as ‘Adzuki’. They climb vigorously and produce abundantly. These seeds have the same colour but don’t look exactly like the Chinese or Japanese Adzuki (which is Vigna angularis). Adzuki Beans have a sweet and nutty flavour and are popular for Asian cooking. These versatile beans can be used fresh; or as a dried bean; or for sprouting; or even as a green manure crop.
We received this bean from Koanga Institute, who describe it as ‘a very tall growing variety with symmetrical clusters of green beans, 15cm long, 7-9 white seeds per pod. Good as a green bean or end of season shellout bean’.
American Pea Bean (Climbing)
Just like the traditional Pea beans, these ones are white and a similar size and shape as a large pea. However they are still beans and very nutritious, containing lots of soluble fibre and protein. Since pea beans don’t contain much cholesterol or fat, they are sometimes recommended as a diet food. Usually used as a dry bean, they can also be used as a green bean if picked early enough.
This is an ancient dry bean. It has a twining (weak climbing) habit in our Whanganui climate. The Anasazi is
also called the Aztec bean, Cave bean, New Mexico Appaloosa and sometimes Jacob’s Cattle. It is a 1,500 year old variety: the most popular story behind the modern origin of the bean is that in the 1980’s a member of an archaeological team from UCLA came upon these beans in New Mexico, in a clay pot sealed with pine tar. They were tested by radio carbon dating to be over 1,500 years old, yet some still germinated! Although initially called “New Mexico Cave Beans”. No one knows what the original growers called themselves – Anasazi is a Navajo word that means ‘ancient ones’.
Running Brook Seeds describe this variety as an extremely old North American bean originally grown by Native Indian tribes along the Upper Missouri River. Stringless green pods, narrow white seeds, reliable plants and good flavour.
Borlotti Beans are popular in Italy and Portugal where they are used as dry beans for casseroles; soups; or cooked and cooled to serve in salads. When cooked they have a creamy texture. This Borlotti variety is a climber and produces beautiful coloured pods and seeds.
Borlotti Beans are popular in Italy and Portugal where they are used as dry beans for casseroles; soups; or cooked and cooled to serve in salads. When cooked they have a creamy texture. This Borlotti variety is a climber and produces beautiful coloured pods and seeds. With the seeds being distinctively elongated.
White seeded green bean with long flat pods. Good flavour.
Cherokee Trail of Tears
This is good as a green or dry bean and has a shiny, black skin. It is a prolific variety that grows on vigorous vines. This heirloom was brought from Tennessee by the Cherokee people as they were marched to Oklahoma by the US federal government in 1839 over the infamous “Trail of Tears” that left so many dead and suffering.
Cobra Climbing Bean
Dark green stringless climbing bean that produces over a long growing season.
Crimson Patterned (SSE #703)
This variety came to us from Southern Seed Exchange. It is a Borlotti type bean. Similar to our ‘Iraqi Bean’, except that the seed of the Crimson Patterned Bean is dark red over a cream background and the Iraqi bean seed is a smaller seed, being also bright red, but over a shinier and darker cream background.
The Dalmatian bean is believed to have been brought to New Zealand by Dalmatian gum diggers well over 100 years ago. The bean has long, fat and juicy stringless pods with a light green skin with purple streaks that disappear when boiled. It is excellent raw or cooked as a green bean and freezes well.
We obtained these seeds from the Southern Seed Exchange. They describe them as ‘grown in Vancouver for many years and in Christchurch. Wide, flat, yellow pods. Produce well all season. The pods picked young are the tastiest fresh beans I’ve ever grown’. Dried beans are the black haricot type.
Vigorous climbing and very productive, these beans can be used green or dry. As a green bean they are tender and have an excellent flavour. Any pods missed from the green tender picking stage can be dried and shelled as dry beans.
Long, flat, green pods to 20 cm. Stringless when young, hardy and a strong grower.
A Spanish heirloom variety that we received from Running Brook Seeds. A dry bean with an unusually large almost oblong seed for an annual variety. The pods have a distinctive pointed tail.
We obtained these seeds from Koanga Institute. These are dry beans and they’re either red and white or black/brown/tan and white. They are an heirloom bean from New Mexico where there is a town called Gila (pronounced Heela).
A perfect Romano bean for use as a green bean over a long season. Good flavour in big, flat-sided pods. Climbing variety.
Holy Climbing (Angel Bean)
These are unusual and attractive creamy rounded beans with a distinctive black marking. They are a dried bean that have a short cooking time without soaking. They have a pleasant, slightly smoky flavour. One story puts their origin in France. A French priest buried his church relics in the garden during the first World War, to protect them. He then planted white beans over them. When the beans were ripe for picking and being shelled the pastor discovered pictures of a monstrance on the beans. At the Heritage Seed Library in Coventry, England, they call these the ‘Angel Bean’, which were traditionally eaten at Christmas. Their story is that this is an old German variety and they would harvest the pods and store them until Christmas time. Then they would pod out the seeds to reveal, with a little bit of imagination, a little angel on each of the seeds.
This bean was brought to New Zealand from Iraq. It is a Borlotti style bean similar to what we think of as Italian Borlotti varieties. It has a similar pod to the ‘Crimson Patterned Climbing Bean’ that we grow, although the seeds of these varieties differ slightly in size and colour.
Italian Valena (Italian Flat Bean; Bob’s Bean; Blue & White)
This bean is a versatile green bean when young or dried bean. It is grown throughout New Zealand and has many names. Koanga Institute call this ‘Bob’s Bean’ and say it was ‘brought to New Zealand by a returning soldier after the Second World War, hidden in his socks. The soldier had been hiding in the hills in Italy after having escaped from a prisoner of war camp and decided he could not return home without these beans that had become a much loved part of his diet’. The Victory Seed Company in the United States sells these beans under the name ‘Valena Italian’. They describe them as a duel-purpose variety that can be used young as a green bean or dried. The pods are flat and green when young, turning tan with maroon streaks as they mature. The seeds are large, egg-shaped and tan with darker brown streaks.
Kentucky Wonder Wax
A climbing bean that produces high yields of tasty beans, that are ideal for eating green when the pods resemble a lime green colour, or fresh-shelled at the yellow colouring stage. Excellent texture and flavour. Distinctive shiny brown seeds.
King of the Blues
We obtained seeds from the Southern Seed Exchange (#723). Their description is ‘a lovely snap bean. Dark purple pods. Nice flavour. The pods go green when cooked. Leaves have purple tinge and flowers are pretty’. These seeds are a beige colour, slightly mottled in appearance and a plump seed. The seeds have a shiny lustre when shelled and dried. Some of the seeds have a darker beige/grey colour.
‘Landfrauen’ translates to ‘woman of the land’. The Amishlandseeds.com website refers to the “elusive purple speckled ‘Landfrauen’ Swiss heirloom pole bean as the best tasting snap bean ever’.
Lazy Wife (Lazy Housewife)
This may have originally been a German bean and introduced to America about 1810. It apparently got its name because it was prolific and set beans in clusters that were easy to pick. The bean has round, light green, fleshy stringless pods.
This is a unique bean with a fascinating history. Graham Godsell sent us this variety. His late wife’s father Harold Luxton was wounded in France during the 1st World War. In 1919 he returned there to work as a gardener for the Imperial & Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Apart from the 2nd World War years this was his only occupation until his retirement as travelling superintendent in the 1970’s. He worked under a Major Cook and between them, over many years ‘they bred a bean to their liking’. (Harold Luxton was awarded a British Empire medal and also received a gold medal award from the Royal Horticulture Society of Great Britain for his work in France.
Harold’s daughter Sylvia Luxton came to New Zealand in 1953. Graham said that he and his late wife Sylvia grew ‘Major Cooks’ beans for many years.
We were delighted to receive these beans and touched by their history, and the dedicated work that these two gentlemen undertook, that others can now grow and appreciate.
These seeds were given to us by Helen Walker of Bulls. She said they were a 100 year old variety. We also received seeds from Clyde Hornby of his ‘China Beans’, and the seeds of both accessions look identical. They are a prolific bean that can be eaten green and one that is always stringless.
Paul Bunyan Giant Bean
This bean came to us as the ‘Paul Bunyan Giant Bean’. It is a climber. We would be interested if anyone can give us any more information on this bean.
Nells Bean (aka Jimenez)
This is a spectacular crimson coloured bean. We received these seeds from Ruth Managh and were very surprised with the intense and beautiful colouring of these beans. The flat pods are green streaked with red, have a great flavour and are stringless until they start to ripen. As they mature the pods get redder. The seeds inside have dark brown streaks and splotches over a brown background. Pods can be sliced when green and used as fresh beans or left to mature, then shelled and dried.
Pea Bean (Bi-colour Pean)
The Pea bean has a striking red and white colour pattern. This bean has a long 400 year history in the UK, and was nearly lost to cultivation. Fortunately it has been re-discovered and is now becoming available again. It is a climbing French bean that can be harvested as green beans when very young or left on the vine until the pods and seeds are dry. These can then be shelled to reveal the beautiful seeds, that can be stored for later cooking.
This variety has long flat dark purple pods that turn a deep green when cooked. The seed is an unusually flat kidney-shaped seed with a matt rather than glossy shine to the freshly shelled and dried seed. A beautiful purple variety that tastes delicious.
According to one of our researchers ‘Romano’ is the ‘Rolls Royce’ of beans. Romano heirloom beans come from Italy.
Stringless variety with shiny, bright green pods. This highly prolific, early and mid season variety is renowned for its long, flat and glossy dark green pods. This variety can also be grown in a greenhouse.
This variety has long green pods overlaid with black. The seeds are a cream colour with purple specks and streaks. The pods look similar to the Landfrauen variety, but the seeds are definitely different. This variety is always a prolific producer for us. We obtained this variety from Koanga Institute.
A black seeded climbing bean for use as a green bean. Since Stromboli is an island off the coast of Sicily, we presume that these beans have been associated with that area.
Wonder of Venice
A climbing yellow bean. Productive and tasty. This is one of Italy’s favourite beans. Broad flattened long pods that are stringless when picked young. Produces flowers over a long period and has roundish black seeds.
This is a very tasty green bean of Chinese origin.
Runner (Perennial) Beans
Painted Lady is a traditional English bicolor grown since 1596. The name is a reference to Queen Elizabeth I, “who was heavily made up with rouge and white chalk.” The gorgeous blooms of red and white are among the most beautiful of flowering beans. These beans can be eaten at the green bean stage or as a dry bean.
Vigorous vines grow to 3 metres and have clusters of ornamental bright scarlet flowers. Although usually used as green beans, they can also be used as green shellout or dry beans. The huge seeds come in violet-purple mottled with black colourings.
A very long-podded Runner bean with a bright purple and mottled black coloured seed. This variety also has the bright orange flowers.
Takamatua Black Runner
This is a very tasty Runner Bean. Gifted by Henry Harrington, Southland. Given to Henry by his Grandmother and grown for more than 50 years by him since then. Henry’s Grandparents had the farm at the top of “Takamatua Valley” just out of Akaroa. Similar to Scarlet Runner except that the seeds are completely black.
A fine, bold white flowering Runner Bean. The pods are hairy not smooth, young pods are long, fine, tender, mild flavoured for use as green beans. If left to dry it will produce a crop of plump, fine tasting, beautiful white butter beans.
A very large seeded white runner bean that can be eaten as a green bean if picked early , or as an excellent dry bean for stews, broth based soups or salads.
Canadian Wonder Dwarf Bean
This dwarf bean produces good crops of fleshy, oval pods, over a long harvest period. Pick the beans when they are still young for eating as a green bean, or leave them to dry on the plants, then slell them for use as a dry bean. A perfect dry bean for chilli con carne.
Colombian Black Dwarf
This dry dwarf bean from Colombia is a staple food in the black bean stews made in that country.
The seeds are a distinctive matt black in colour. Very productive small plants.
This is a type of Borlotti bean. This one is a dwarf. The beans when dried, shelled and cooked, have a mild flavour somewhat similar to nuts.
Kaiapoi Red Dwarf
A dwarf red-seeded bean that we obtained from the Southern Seed Exchange. A green bean, the seeds are very similar to ‘The Prince’ and ‘Canadian Wonder’.
Pepa de Zapallo
Beautiful mustard-gold seeds with red swirls make these seeds very distinctive. This is a dwarf dry bean. The bean seeds have thin, tender skin, that makes them delicious in chilli and refried beans.
Dutch Brown Soup Bean
Small plants up to 30cm tall. These brightly coloured light-brown seeds are dried for soups.
The standard Red Kidney dwarf bean for use as a dry bean.
Rydal A dwarf
A yellow wax French bean.
This bean produces long straight pencil pods of excellent flavour. The beans are stringless when picked young.
Persian Climbing Lima
Stunning red climbing Lima variety.
Lima Del Papa (Chestnut Lima)
These beans were discovered by European explorers in Lima (Peru) in the 16th century. They are large, red/brown and white in colour with a dense, meaty texture. The beans are characterized by their exceptional taste and impressive size of round, flattened seeds. They retain their shape even after being cooked and are well suited for salads, stews, and soups.