Tree Bean

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

tree bean the name given to leguminous plants—shrubs, trees, and climbers—of the genus Bauhinia. These grow widely in Africa, India, and SE Asia, and there is also more than one Australian species.

All the bauhinias have two-lobed butterfly leaves. These are commemorated by the generic name, which honours a pair of botanists, John and Caspar Bauhin. The bauhinias mostly lurk just inside the threshold of edibility. None is very good, but many have sufficient local importance to justify a mention.

The seeds of Bauhinia reticulata are eaten in tropical Africa, and the pods of B. esculenta are widely consumed, especially in S. Africa, where it is known as camel’s foot (a name possibly imported from India, where it applies to B. purpurea).