Staple and comfort food icon, the bean has played an essential role in the survival of people and animals since ancient times. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that old-world legumes (lentils, peas, broad beans, chick peas, and soybeans) were used as food for more than 10,000 years in eastern Asia. Caches of lentils have been found in Egyptian tombs, signifying the reverence paid to this plant. In “History of Legumes: Man’s Use of Legumes” (www.healthguidance.org), Jason Ladock writes that “Legumes are second only to the cereal grasses as sources of human food and animal forage.”
Why are legumes so popular? Legumes, members of the bean or Fabaceae plant family, have many significant attributes. Beans are high in iron, potassium and magnesium, and are also an important source of protein and fiber. They are easy to grow, and, when dry, can be stored for long periods of time without losing viability if they are kept in a cool, dry, dark environment. Beside their nutritive benefits, the USDA Soil Quality Institute reports that beans have an ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen with the help of symbiotic Rhizobia bacteria living in their roots.