The runner bean (Phaseolus Coccineus) is a relative newcomer to the UK. As a native of the high altitude (and cooler) parts of South America, where it has been used as a food crop for over 2000 years, it was brought across to Britain in the 17th century.

When the runner bean first arrived in Britain, it was grown exclusively as a decorative plant for it’s stunning displays of red flowers.

In Mexico, the starchy roots are used in cooking in addition to the pods, although it is said this side of the water that the roots are poisonous. Maybe the Mexicans have a special way of preparing them. If anyone knows the answer to this one, feel free to add a comment.

The pods of runner beans can be left to mature, and then shelled like peas to remove the bean seeds from the pod. The seeds are then dried for storage and are used for adding to stews etc in the same way as kidney beans, haricot beans etc.

When we talk about “green beans” we are referring, not to the colour of the pods, but to the practice of eating the runner bean pods before the bean seeds inside are fully ripened.

Four varieties of bean were brought to the UK in 1633. Two of these “Painted Lady” and “Scarlet Runner” are still amonst the most popular varieties grown today.

Although the bean is grown as an annual, it is by nature a perennial, and it is possible to overwinter the root tubers, and plant them out the following spring. I have to confess I have never done this, but it might be worth an experiment 🙂

In America it was grown as part of the “3 sisters” of beans, corn and squash. The corn was grown on a mound, with the beans grown alongside where they would grow up the corn like a trellis. The squash plants were planted amongst the corn and beans. These three plants appear to complement each other and each adds something to the partnership.

Grow runner beans in cotton wool with the kids

Start your runner beans in recycled newspaper pots

Pest damage to pot grown runner beans

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