Lima beans are a type of legume native to South America. These highly nutritious beans are known by a number of alternate names, including Haba beans, sugar beans, butter beans, Guffin beans, civet beans, Hibbert beans, Pallar beans, Sieva beans, Madagascar beans, and Burma beans. For people who prefer precision, the scientific name is Phaseolus lunatus, and the beans come in two sizes, with larger beans believed to be native to the Andes, while smaller beans were cultivated in other parts of Mesoamerica.
In addition to coming in two sizes, lima beans also come in numerous cultivars that may have distinctive coloration patterns. Typically, the beans are green to creamy white, with a starchy flavor that also has a hint of smooth richness. Most markets carry dried beans, and it is also possible to find them canned in many shops. When they are in season, fresh lima beans can be found at some farmers' markets, and they are certainly worth a try. People in temperate zones can also try their hands at growing the plants themselves.
The timeline for the domestication of lima beans is a bit murky. The beans are certainly very old, and they definitely originated in South America before drifting northwards. By the time European settlers reached the Americas, native Americans were cultivating these beans and other legumes as an important part of their diets. The beans were undoubtedly one of the first products brought back to Europe, where they became quite popular, unlike the poor tomato, which had to endure decades of ignominies before it was finally accepted as a food.
In cooking, lima beans can be used like other beans in a wide range of dishes including soups and stews. They can also be pureed to make a bean spread, or included in salads and chili. The beans pair well with a broad number of foods, and they are also enjoyable plain.
Depending on the cultivar, lima beans can either grow in the form of a bush or a vine that requires trellising. They tend to mature quickly, so some gardeners like to stagger their plantings to prolong the availability of fresh beans. The plants grow best in a temperate climate, and they should be planted after damp, cold weather is no longer a risk, as wet conditions can retard growth. In climates with cold springs, seedlings can be started in a greenhouse and transplanted.
Like other beans, lima beans appreciate some room to grow, and they should be staked to reduce the risk of rotting pods. Fresh beans can be harvested at any times once the pods grow large enough, or they can be left on the branch to dry out for the purpose of making dried beans for storage. Be aware that some beans develop cyanide compounds, so make sure to cook them very well before eating them.