Scarlet Runner Beans are in a league all their own in the bean world. They are often grown purely for ornamental reasons, as they are beautifully stunning with their red blooms and climbing vines. However, even though they are ornamentals they are delicious edibles too!
These pretty perennials, sometimes called multiflora or multiflowered beans, are exceptional members of the Fabaceae family (legume family). This family of plants not only includes the Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus), but also other nitrogen fixers such as soybeans, peanuts, and alfalfa. Scarlets are native to the uplands of Mexico and Central America. These beans have been cultivated in England since the 17th century and soon after in the USA.
To cultivate your own beans, find a sunny spot with well-drained soil and enough space to place a trellis, or something similar, to allow the beans to climb vertically as they grow. When planting these beans, do so after the threat of all spring frosts has passed, and temperatures are above 60°F, as they do not do well with frosts or extreme temperature drops. Sow your bean seeds 4” apart from each other and 6” away the trellis. Water beans regularly, but do not oversaturate or wet the leaves. Keeping them from becoming overcrowded or remaining in wet conditions will reduce the likelihood of developing fungus. Various types of beetles can damage your beans. Sprinkling diatomaceous earth around your plants can help prevent this.
In a one cup (150 grams) serving, Scarlets offer 498 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 25 grams of protein, and 92 grams of carbohydrates. The beans also provide calcium and non-heme iron. One thing that is important to note is that the timing of when you eat the beans is important. Scarlet Runner Beans can be eaten raw when they are still immature pods. However, as they mature they need to be cooked before eaten. As with most beans, Scarlets contain small quantities of lectins. Lectins are proteins that bind to carbohydrates, and protect plants from damaged caused by insects and pathogens. Scarlets contain the lectin phytohaemagglutinin. Phytohaemagglutinin in large quantities is toxic, but the toxic effects can be reduced by soaking, sprouting, fermenting, or heating the beans at high temperatures (>185°F) for >10 minutes.
It takes Scarlets just under 3 months to be ready for harvest, but they will be producing proficiently by then. So, what to do with all those fabulous beans? As mentioned before, be sure to soak, sprout, ferment, or cook the beans properly no matter what your culinary plans may be. If you decide to can Scarlets, know the canning process does heat the beans to a high enough temperature to adequately reduce toxins, making them safe to eat. Below is a recipe I like to use that incorporates soaking and cooking the Scarlets, plus bacon! What could be better?
Beans and Bacon
1 pound Scarlet Runner Beans, rinsed
6 slices smoked bacon (I prefer thick cut), chopped into large pieces
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
1 tablespoon Amontillado sherry
2 cups broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme*
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon DeLallo instant Espresso
Salt and fresh ground pepper to tastes
Soaking the Scarlets:
Place beans in a pot or bowl
Cover with water
Soak 6 hours at room temperature
Place bacon in a large pot, over medium heat
Cook until the bacon is browned, but not crispy
Add a small amount of olive oil to the pot
Cook until fragrant
Cook until slightly translucent
Scrape bottom of pot to combine any browned bits
Turn heat to medium-high and bring to a boil
Cook for 1-2 minutes or until reduced slightly
Drain and rinse beans
Add broth, bay leaves, thyme, crushed red pepper flakes, and beans to the pot with the bacon
Add enough water to cover beans by 1”
Cover pot with a lid
Reduce heat to a low
Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and adding additional water if needed to keep beans covered
Continue cooking for an additional hour or until beans are tender, but not mushy or falling apart
Serve while warm and enjoy!
*Other spices can be used here if you prefer. Try rosemary, sage, oregano, or whatever sounds good to you!
Scarlet Runner Beans are beautiful and delicious all in one package. They are fun to grow and delicious to enjoy. While they do require some preparation before consuming, they are a delight to have on the menu. Even if you aren’t into eating them, they make a striking and prominent garden addition. So whether you are going for looks or flavor, the Scarlet Runner Bean is a great the legume to try!
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
Oregon State University Extension Service. February 19, 2003. Oregon State University. Runner beans are beautiful and edible. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/runner-beans-are-beautiful-and-edible