Broad Bean

(Vicia faba) Beans are fairy food. The Green Children captured near Wolfpits in Suffolk would only eat beans, but gradually became used to mortal food. The boy pined and died, but the girl lived, and eventually married a local man. By the same token beans are the food of the dead, or, according to another tradition, they contain the souls of the dead (Waring). At any rate, they were sacred to them. That is why they were prohibited in the Vedas as ordinary food. They were a favourite offering to the departed in ancient Greece, and for this reason they were forbidden to his followers by Pythagoras. Pliny says that beans were used in sacrificing to the dead because the souls of the dead were in them, and Ovid said that the witch put beans in her mouth when she tried to call up spirits. On the other hand, spitting beans at a witch was a Wiltshire way of rendering her spells ineffective (Whitlock. 1992). Eventually, they were used at funerals in classical times, a use that found its way to the north of England, where the tradition used to be (at least in the 1890s) that broad beans should always be buried with the coffin (Pope). Children used to recite:

God save your soul, Beans and all (Tongue).

Presumably all this accounts for the Somerset saying that to sniff the scent of a beanfield is fatal. Similarly, in Leicestershire, it is said that to sleep overnight in a beanfield can cause insanity, or at least horrifying dreams. It is a fact that the heavy perfume has been known to cause fantasies during sleep (Genders). Dreaming of beans is reckoned to bring trouble of some kind (Gordon.1985), quite apart from the belief that they "cause vain dreams and dreadful" (Bartholomew Anglicus). Both North country and Midlands (Davies) miners insisted that colliery accidents were more frequent when the beans were in flower (Waring). And another superstition said that when beans grew upside down in the pod, it was an omen of some kind. They did so in the summer of 1918 apparently, and then it was remembered that the last time they did that was the year the Crimean war ended. Unfortunately the correspondent of Notes and Queries who reported it dated his letter in 1941, when once more they were growing upside down, but that war took another four years to end.

There were prescribed times for sowing beans, although they show wide variations. The favourite seems to have been St Thomas's Day (21 December) (Baker. 1974, Wright), but equally well known is the Somerset rule that they should be set in the Candlemas Waddle, that is, the waning of the February moon, or on the February new moon, as some say (Watson). Otherwise they would not flourish. Elsewhere a date a little later than this is preferred, according to the rhyme:

Sow beans or peas on David or Chad, Be the weather good or bad; Then comes Benedict, If you ain't sown your beans -Keep 'em in the rick (Baker. 1977).

Warwickshire custom required bean-planting to start on St Valentine's Day, and they agree it must be finished by St Benedict. St Valentine's Day is 14 February, St David's Day 1 March, and Chad the day after. St Benedict is celebrated on 21 March. Usually three beans are put in each hole, though the Warwickshire rhyme gives four:

One for the pigeon, one for the crow, One to go rotten, and one to grow (Savage).

There is quite a widespread belief in the efficacy of rubbing warts gently with the furry inside of a bean pod as a way to get rid of them - it has been recorded from East Anglia to Wiltshire and Somerset, (Randell, G E Evans. 1966, Whitlock. 1988) as well as from Cumbria. Sometimes one finds relics of a charm attached to this. For instance, in Essex, there is the injunction to throw the pod down a drain after rubbing the warts (Newman & Wilson):

As this bean shell rots away

So my warts shall soon decay (Hardy. 1878).

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