Lablab is a favourite vegetable in the tropics as it consistently crops over a long period. In more temperate climates it is a more challenging plant and does not produce pods so well. However, it's worth growing for the beautiful, lightly scented flowers. And you can eat the young leaves.
Lablab is known as the hyacinth bean, because of its fragrance. There are numerous varieties. Flowers vary from purple through to pink and pure white, and pods that can be deep purple to a greyish white, speckled to plain green; sharp pointed, puffy, round or flat, scimitar shaped or blade-like. The pods often have a peculiarly wrinkled and rough edge down the side, which doesn’t split. The beans are usually eaten without pods. At present there is a very limited range of cultivars available in Britain and only ‘Ruby Moon’ is commonly sold for its ornamental purple flowers. Some people have saved seeds from fresh lablab (sold in Asian shops) with varying degrees of success, and internet seed sales include ‘Rongai’ and ‘Ipsa 2’, both of which are suitable for culture in our conditions.
How to grow
- Lablab needs a long growing season to do best, so sow 2 or 3 seeds in a general purpose potting compost in a 9cm/3in pot in mid April. Germination temperature is around 18-21°C/65-70°F, and seeds take anything from 10-25 days to emerge.
- Keep seedlings in a warm light place and pot up as they grow. Some cultivars climb, some are dwarf but all rarely begin to require support until they have at least five or six true leaves.
- Once the weather is warm enough you can harden them off and plant outside, but they do best in a polytunnel or greenhouse. Space plants 15cm/6in apart. They will grow in poor soil but prefer a well cultivated fertile plot, ideally with a compost trench (as for runner beans) to help retain moisture. The plants need full sun and shelter from cold winds.
How to eat
In some African cultures the young leaves are eaten as a green vegetable, and are a valuable source of protein. If you do manage to grow mature pods, pick them as soon as they are large enough to eat, and still tender: the papri cultivars should be left until seeds have formed inside the pods and then podded like peas. Liva and val don’t store well so are best eaten fresh. NB - some strains are toxic if eaten raw, so never eat raw lablab pods or beans, and when cooking boil hard for several minutes, like dried French beans.
For a full list of multicultural vegetables see here. They all come from our innovative Sowing New Seeds and Growing From Your Roots projects, when Garden Organic worked with allotment holders of Indian, South American, East Asian, Afro Caribbean and African extraction.