Have you heard of this little beauty? Most likely you have but just didn’t know it. Lupinus, also called Lupine, Lupin, Lupini beans, bluebonnets, and several other names, is both an agriculture crop and a smaller scale garden plant and ornamental. There are many species of Lupinus, but all hail from the legume family (Fabaceae, Leguminosae or Papilionaceae), and like all legumes can fix nitrogen, which benefits the soil and act as a green manure. So while it has many benefits, you can see immediately why it makes both a great garden and agricultural crop.
Once Misunderstood, Now Provides a World of Benefits
The name Lupinus is thought to have come from term Lupus, referring to the wolf, due to the fact that it was assumed to “wolf” or deplete the soil it grew in. Much like our negative thinking of wolves has changed; we now know legumes actually add to the soil ecosystem, just as wolves add to their ecosystem. Like the wolf, Lupinus has many benefits (beyond nitrogen fixing) including being used as an ornamental garden plant to add color and eye-catching beauty to any flower bed or garden spot. Lupinus flowers can come in a variety of colors including rich purples and reds, deep blues, bright whites or creams, pinks, and yellows. Some colors are rarer than others and are species dependent.
Another use for this versatile legume is as a beauty product additive. Lupinus is added to personal skin care products with the idea of preventing collagen and elastin breakdown. You will see it in some products listed as hydrolyzed lupine protein. Lupinus is added to products with the belief that it reduces the look of wrinkles and provides firmer, younger looking skin.
The most often thought of use for Lupinus is a food source. This is not only true for humans, but also for livestock. For thousands of years, Lupinus seeds have been used as a nutritional source, with records dating back 6,000 years for those in the Andean highlands and 3,000 years for those in the Mediterranean areas.
For human consumption, the best species to try are sweeter species with less bitter (and possibly toxic) alkaloids. Often on an agriculture crop scale the larger seeded and broader leaf variety, known as Lupinus albus, is grown for human consumption, while the narrow leaf species, Lupinus angustifolius, is often grown for livestock feed. Lupinus is fed to livestock to provide proper nutrition and provide higher rates of gain. Both varieties are tested for seed borne diseases, specifically Lupin anthracnose, a disease caused by fungal infection.
By adding Lupinus to your diet you are including a high protein plant source. A 1 cup (166 grams) serving of cooked Lupinus has 26 grams of protein. This is very high for a plant-based protein source. In that 1 cup serving it also offers 198 calories, 5 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbohydrates (5 grams of which is dietary fiber), and is considered a very low starch food and is gluten-free. Beyond being low in starch and an excellent source of protein, Lupinus is also an excellent source of manganese and a good source of folate (B-9), magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.
If you choose to plant the lovely Lupinus in your garden, first ensure you have chosen an appropriate species of this plant for your intended use. Once you have picked your species, look to sow seeds in early spring to provide better flowering before the heat of the summer takes its toll. It is best to soak your seeds overnight to increase germination success. Plant in full sunlight and keep the soil moist. Be sure to weed your garden, as some varieties are poor competitors against hearty weeds.
Notes of Caution
The seeds and pods of Lupinus can be toxic to both humans and animals. Do not just pick and eat Lupinus!! Younger plants are more toxic than older one; however because of the high alkaloid content of the seeds and enhanced palatability (for livestock) associated with late summer seed stages of the plant they are considered especially dangerous at this time. It is best to choose a sweeter variety to plant, but even those require soaking to remove possible toxins and the bitter taste caused by alkaloids. See section below for soaking instructions.
Lupinus can become infected with the fungus Diaporthe Toxica, which causes Mycotoxic Lupinosis. This disease can damage the liver and may cause death.
People who exhibit an allergy to peanuts are often allergic to other legumes, including Lupinus. So be wary if you or someone you know has an anaphylaxis reaction to peanuts or any legume.
One more thing to considered when selecting a variety of Lupinus to plant, be sure the species you choose isn’t considered invasive in your area.
Soaking Lupinus Beans
To keep alkaloids from ruining your Lupinus, be sure to practice proper preparation and soaking methods.
To soak and prepare beans, follow the directions below:
Soak beans in cold water in a nonreactive bowl for 24 hours.
Place beans into a nonreactive pot and cover with fresh water.
Bring water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for up to 45 minutes.
Remove from heat and drain beans.
Place beans in a nonreactive bowl and cover with fresh water.
Soak beans for 1 – 2 weeks to remove alkaloids. Drain the beans daily and add freshwater. You can test for bitterness after a week by biting into the beans, but don’t consume them yet.
When the beans are no longer bitter, drain and add highly brined water.
Set in refrigerator and do not change the water anymore.
The beans will be ready to eat the next day. More salt can be added if not salty enough. If too salty add more water.
To eat the now soaked and prepared beans, just take from the brine water, pop the bean out of its casing, and enjoy! Another great way to enjoy Lupinus is to create a mixed olive dish with your beans. Try this recipe for delicious culinary fun:
Lupinus and Olives
1 cup (prepared and soaked) Lupinus Beans, casings removed
1 cup of your favorite mix of olives (drained)
½ cup sliced pickled sweet cherry peppers (drained)
2-3 T olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and combine well.
Add more or less of the olive oil and black pepper based on preferred taste.
Add some balsamic vinegar to your creation to shake up the flavor and add some zing!
Serve as a side dish with chicken or fish, or all on its own as a delicious and protein-packed, light meal.
While there are some precautions to take with Lupinus in order to consume it, this beautiful ornamental is a wonderful addition to your world. With its high protein content and numerous uses, this plant deserves a special place in gardens and agriculture fields alike, as well as your dinner table. So find the best variety for you and enjoy the many splendors of Lupinus.
Agriculture Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture. Lupine (Lupinus spp.). https://www.ars.usda.gov/pacific-west-area/logan-ut/poisonous-plant-research/docs/lupine-lupinus-spp/
Agriculture Victoria. February 22, 2017. The State of Victoria. Growing Lupin. https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/grains-and-other-crops/crop-production/growing-lupin
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
Putnam, D. November 20, 1997.Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota,. Department of Agronomy, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wisconsin. Alternative Field Crops Manual. Lupine. https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/lupine.html
Wikipedia.org. February 27, 2017. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Lupinus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupinus