THE BEANS: AN AMBIVALENT PLANT
PART 4/8 “THE BLACK LIST OF FORBIDDEN PLANTS”
Indeed, sometimes the effects of certain foods could not be easily explained due to lack of scientific knowledge and entered into a true contradiction .
It was the case of beans whose prohibitions, curious comments and beliefs about their nature and their properties in ancient times leave us still baffled today.
The Vicia faba called kýamos , possibly originated in Persia . In the Iliad they are nominated and in the city of Troy there have been indications of their consumption in some excavations that have taken place in the area. So they are believed to have been cultivated since ancient times .
In fact it is known that in the past its consumption supplanted for a long time the much appreciated animal protein , scarce in the diet at that time by a large part of the population, since it was mainly based on the consumption of cereal .
It is known that the Greeks were great consumers of beans, Aristophanes comments in several of his writings, as were the Romans .
In Spain the Phoenicians introduced it along with other legumes such as lentils and peas (they were also considered vegetables with supernatural powers because they reminded of eggs , the fruit of life). Especially in the Mediterranean area it was consumed abundantly.
Its long preservation allowed its storage in jars so they were used as an optimal livelihood on long trips .
In fact it quickly became popular throughout Europe and at the beginning it was consumed by all social classes , then its appreciation diminished, probably due to the negative effects of flatulence that caused its difficult digestion and became “the meat of the poor” which caused a decrease in its cost .
Despite this suspicious reputation, its consumption was quite popular , especially in times of shortages . In fact, when other more appreciated cereals were scarce, Romans cooked a certain bread made with dried bean flour , called lomentum . Similar to chickpea flour bread that is still very popular in Italy today.
Besides its nutritional contribution, rich in vegetable proteins, minerals and vitamins , its effect on the cultivated land was beneficial , since the beans deposit nitrogen on the soil that improves the fertility of the land. In fact, it is currently used in rotary cultivation to improve soil yield.
It is believed that it is possible that this known and proven fertilizing capacity of bean plants on the ground is one of the reasons why it has always been associated with the generation of life .
Precisely because it is a good and natural fertilizer (as we know today), since as we say it deposits on the ground nitrogen that acts as fertilizer and enriches the earth; ignorant of this fact, in the past they thought that beans were a “contaminated” food , because it somehow absorbed the impurities from the ground.
For the ancestors, the fact that the land after the cultivation of beans was objectively more fertile justified and fortified the idea that the beans were vegetables with supernatural powers that retained the dark impurities of the afterlife .
To add more fear and alarm about the already “cursed” beans, in southern Italy and Greece , a hereditary anomaly, the fabism , which is a dangerous deficit of an enzyme , was first revealed in the 19th century. Its function is to protect red blood cells from damage caused by certain substances , including some of the beans .
It acts as an allergy even if it is not such, so it is often associated or even confused with the symptoms of an allergy. The consumption of beans, contact or simply the inhalation of its pollen causes the destruction of red blood cells, causing severe anemia .
This fact, as we say it was known later, but it is very likely that along with its difficult digestibility (commented on in many writings of many notorious characters of antiquity), this alteration of health was already known , although it was not known (obviously ) to be such. For this reason it is not surprising the suspicion towards the beans that was introduced in the ancient popular opinion and that has come to this day with so many curious anecdotes about this plant.
POPULAR BELIEFS ON BEANS
That beans had some digestive and allergic contraindications, does not justify at all the disconcerting and scabrous beliefs about this legume and the properties with which they attributed a supernatural and ominous nature .
For example, as we have said, being one of the earliest harvest plants , (since germination occurs around 40 days after planting), it was believed that they were the first offering of the dead to the living and because of this reason its reincarnation .
Pliny claimed that the priests did not eat black beans because they believed they were the vehicle through which young souls climbed to the Moon in whose rays they resided until they descended to earth to reincarnate into a new life.
In some verses attributed to Orpheus and Empedocles , they state that eating beans meant eating the heads of parents . So eating them would mean entering into communion with the dead and accepting to be part of reincarnation cycle .
In addition their similar resemblance to an embryo showed according to them, somehow this belief about the regeneration of life .
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THE BEANS: AN AMBIVALENT PLANT