Vicia (Sturtevant, 1919)

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Sturtevant, Notes on edible plants, 1919
Vicia (Sturtevant, 1919)

Vicia cracca Linn.

Leguminosae. TUFTED VETCH.

Asia, Europe and northern America. This vetch has been occasionally cultivated, as affording provender of good quality, but it does not ripen a sufficient quantity of seed to make it easy to grow it as an annual green crop. Johnson says the seeds may be used as food.

Vicia ervilia Willd.

North Africa and Europe. This vetch, according to Loudon, is cultivated in some places as a lentil. This vetch is cultivated by the French.

Vicia faba Linn.


Europe and Asia. The European bean appears to be among the most ancient of our cultivated esculents. A variety has been found in the lacustrine deposits of Switzerland ascribed to the Bronze Age. It was cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans, by the Hebrews and by the ancient Egyptians, although it is not among the seeds found in the catacombs, perhaps, De Candolle remarks, because it was reported unworthy for the nourishment of priests, or certain priests, or from motives of superstition. Herodotus states that the priests in Egypt held beans in such aversion that none were sown throughout the land; if by chance a single plant anywhere sprang up, they turned away their eyes from it as from an impure thing. Wilkinson remarks that this statement applied, apparently, only to the priests for the people were allowed to eat these beans.

Pythagorus is said to have eaten beans very frequently, but his disciples seem to have forbidden their eating, and it is related that their aversion was carried to such an extent that a party of Pythagoreans allowed themselves to be slaughtered by the soldiers of Dionysius rather than to escape by passing through a field of these vegetables. Porphyrus says, "take the flowers of the bean when they begin to grow black, put them in a vessel and bury it in the ground; at the end of ninety days, when it is opened, the head of a child will be found in the bottom." Diogenes Laertius says, "beans are the substance which contains the largest portion of that animated matter of which our souls are particles." One of the noble families of Rome, the Fabii, derived their name from this plant, and the Romans had a solemn feast called Fabaria, at which they offered beans in honor of Carna, the wife of Janus. At one time, the Romans believed the souls of such as had died resided in beans and Clemens Alexandrinus, and even Cicero, entertained equally extravagant notions of them. The Flamen Dialis were not permitted to mention the name, and Lucian represents a philosopher in Hades as saying that to eat beans and to eat one's father's head were equal crimes. A temple dedicated to the God of Beans, Kyanites, stood upon the sacred road to Elensis, and the Kyampsia or bean feast, which the Athenians celebrated in honor of Apollo, was characterized by the use of beans. What the Greeks called the Egyptian bean was the seed of Nelumbium speciosum.

The Emperor Chin-nong is said to have introduced the bean into China in the year 2822 B. C. The period of its introduction into Britain is unknown but Gerarde, 1597, appears to have known only two varieties. At Teneriffe, at the discovery, the people are said to have had beans and peas or vetches, all of which they call hacichei. In 1667, Father Carii speaks of "kidney beans and common beans " in Congo. In 1776, they were seen by Thunberg in Japan. The first introduction into the North American colonies was by Captain Gosnold, 1602, who planted them on the Elizabeth Islands near the coast of Massachusetts, where they nourished well. They were also cultivated in Newfoundland as early as 1622, in New Netherlands in 1644, and in Virginia prior to 1648. Beans are mentioned as cultivated in New England prior to 1671 by Josselyn. In McMahon's work of 1806, fourteen kinds are enumerated. In 1828, Thorburn gives, in his seed list, six kinds and in 1881 but four. European beans are seldom cultivated in America now, their place being taken by the kidney beans.

The vague indications of the supposed habitat of the bean in Persia or on the shores of the Caspian, says Targioni-Tozzetti, have not been confirmed by modern researches. “May it not," says he, "have originated from Vicia narbonensis, a species not uncommon in the Mediterranean region from Spain to the Caucasus and very much resembling the bean in every respect except in the thinness of the pod and the smallness of the seeds? "

Linnaeus forms this bean into two botanical varieties, as does also Moench, who names the one hortensis, or the garden bean, the other equina, or the horse bean. These are both figured or mentioned by the early botanists; the hortensis, or garden bean, by Fuchsius, 1542, and Tragus, 1552. The equina is described by Pena and Lobel in their Adversaria, 1570, and by Lyte in his Dodoens, 1586, as well as by Dodonaeus, 1566. R. Thompson, 1850, describes ten varieties, giving synonyms and these include all known to him. Let us follow up his synonymy, in order to see whether varieties of modem origination appear. This synonymy is founded upon identity of names in most instances and applies to the garden bean only, yet collateral evidence would seem to indicate a substantial correctness:

1. Early mazagan. Thompson. 1850. Brought from a settlement of the Portuguese on the coast of Africa, just without the Straits of Gibralter. Mill. Diet. 1807.

  • Early mazagan. Mawe 1778; Bryant 1783; McMahon 1806; Thorb. Cat. 1828; Thorb. Cat. 1884.
  • Feve naine hative. Noisette 1829; Vilm. 1882.

2. Marshall's Early Dwarf Prolific. Thompson. 1850.

3. Long-pod. Thompson. 1850.

  • Long-pod. McMahon 1806.
  • Early long-pod. Mawe 1778; Bridgeman 1832; Loudon 1860.
  • Early Portugal or Lisbon. Mawe 1778; Mill. Diet. 1807.
  • Early Lisbon. McMahon 1806; Bridgeman 1832.
  • Turkey long-pod. Mawe 1778; McMahon 1806; Bridgeman 1832.
  • Tall long-pod. Mawe 1778.
  • Sandwich. J. W. Gent. 1683; Townsend 1726; Stevenson 1765; Mawe 1778; Bryant 1738; Bridgeman 1832.
  • Sword long-pod. Thorb. Cat. 1828; Fessenden 1828; Bridgeman 1832; Thorb. Cat. 1884.
  • Hang-down long-pod. Vilm. 1883.
  • Feve a longue cosses. Noisette 1829; Vilm. 1883.

4. Green long-pod. Thompson. 1850.

  • Green Genoa. McMahon 1806; Bridgeman 1832.
  • Green Nonpareil. McMahon 1806; Thorb. Gard. Kal. 1821; Fessenden 1828; Bridgeman 1832; Thorb. Cat. 1884.

5. Dutch long-pod. Thompson. 1850; Loudon 1860.

6. Windsor. Thompson. 1850.

  • Broad Windsor. Mill. Diet. 1807; Pessenden 1828; London 1860; Thorb. 1884.
  • Kentish Windsor. Bridgeman 1832.
  • Taylor's Windsor. Bridgeman 1832.
  • Mumford. Mawe 1778; Bryant 1783; McMahon 1806; Bridgeman 1832.
  • Small Spanish. Mawe 1778; Bryant 1783.
  • Windsor. Stevenson 1765; Mawe 1778; Bryant 1783.
  • Large Windsor. Van der Donck 1653; in present New York.

7. Green Windsor. Thompson. 1850.

  • Toker. Stevenson 1765; Mawe 1778; Bryant 1783; Bridgeman 1832.
  • Feve de Windsor verte. Vilm. 1883.

8. Green China. Thompson. 1850.

9. Dwarf crimson-seeded. Thompson. 1850.

  • Feve tres naine rouge. Vilm. 1883.

10. Dwarf fan. Thompson. 1850.

  • Dwarf fan or cluster. Mawe 1778.
  • Dwarf cluster. McMahon 1806; Bridgeman;1832.
  • Feve naine hative a chassis. Vilm. 1883.

11. Red-blossomed. Mawe 1778; McMahon 1806; Bridgeman 1832; Thompson 1850.

12. White-blossomed. Mawe 1778; McMahon 1806; Bridgeman 1832; Thompson 1850.

The only two other varieties advertised lately are Beck's Dwarf Green Gem and Seville Long-pod. There is certainly no indication here that types have appeared in modern culture. The crowd of new names which appear during a decade gradually becomes reduced to a synonymy, and we find at last that the variation gained has been within types only.

Vicia gemella Crantz.


Europe and the Orient; a weed of Britain, which is said to be cultivated in some places. It is now naturalized in the United States near the coast.

Vicia gigantea Hook.

California to Sitka. The seeds are eaten by the Indians. Gray remarks that the seeds are eatable, when young, like green peas.

Vicia hirsuta S. F. Gray.


Europe, northern Africa and Asia. This species is said by Loudon to be cultivated in some places as a lentil. This plant is naturalized in the United States from Massachusetts to Virginia.

Vicia monanthos Desf.

Mediterranean region. This is a lens cultivated by the French.

Vicia narbonensis Linn.


Orient and Mediterranean region. This species is supposed by Targioni- Tozzetti to be the original of the English bean. The seeds are of excellent quality.

Vicia pallida Turcz.


Himalayan regions. This vetch has been cultivated chiefly in cold, northern regions, being remarkably hardy. It is found wild even within the arctic regions.

Vicia pisiformis Linn.

Europe. This is the lentille du Canada of the French and, according to Loudon, is cultivated in some places as a lentil.

Vicia sativa Linn.


Europe, North Africa and the Orient. In 1686, according to Ray, this tare was grown throughout Europe for feeding animals. There are a number of varieties, the most prominent of which are the spring and winter tares. The seed of the white vetch is eaten in some countries. The seeds are said by Johnson to be neither very palatable nor nutritious. In many cantons of France, the seeds are, however, eaten in soup and enter into the composition of flours used for breadmaking.

Vicia sepium Linn.


Northern Asia, Himalayan regions and Europe. The seeds may be used as food.

Vicia villosa Roth.


Russia. This species has been cultivated of late years with much success in several parts of northern and central Europe.