The climbing Common Haricot [Phaseolus vulgaris] is thought to have originated in South America. Evidence exists that the native people of Mexico and Peru were cultivating bean crops as far back as 7000 BC.
Just for once there is no reference to the plant during Roman times or in ancient Greece. There appears to be no trace of the haricot in early European pre-history and it seems they were introduced to Europe during the 15th century.
The haricot bean is a diverse category that includes runner beans, kidney beans and lima beans, and it's adaptability helped it to become a staple crop. It is apparent that beans were an integral part of the development of many cultures throughout the world.
The early farmers who were growing beans also grew grains. (wheat, barley, millet, rice and corn). Beans and grains have a symbiotic relationship in which the amino acids of each complement one another in such way as to form a complete protein.
The Native Americans exemplified this with their mixed cultivation of beans, corn and squash known as the 'three sisters'. The corn would not be planted in rows as it is today but in a checkerboard fashion across a field. Beans would be planted around the base of the developing stalks, and would climb up as the stalks grew. The cornstalks would work as a trellis for the beans, and the beans would provide much-needed nitrogen for the corn.
Squash would then be planted in the spaces between the patches of corn in the field. The corn would provide some shelter from the sun and would deter many animals from attacking the squash and beans because their coarse, hairy vines and broad, stiff leaves are difficult or uncomfortable for animals like deer and racooons to walk through and crows to land on.
In France during the 100 year war (between 1337 and 1453), the inhabitants of Castelnaudary, who were besieged by the English, made a gigantic ragout gathering of all their reserves of beans, geese, pork and sausages. Perked up by this imposing dish, they victoriously pushed back the enemy and gave birth to the now classic French dish, Cassoulet.
Beans play an important part in world agriculture and are an essential part of a balanced diet in many countries. They come in hundreds of shapes, sizes and colors, are versatile and amazingly convenient because they can be dried and stored for years. Soaking beans for a couple of hours brings them back to life, activating enzymes, proteins. minerals and vitamins.
Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century apothecary and herbalist thought beans were good for all manner of ailments.
"They are plants of Venus, and the distilled water of the flower of garden beans is good to clean the face and skin from spots and wrinkles; and the meal or flower of them , or the small beans, doth the same. The water distilled from the green husks, is held to be very effectual against the stone and to provoke urine. Bean-flower is used in poultices to assuage inflammation arising from wounds, and the swelling of women’s breasts caused by the curdling of their milk, and represseth their milk … The husks boiled in water to the consumption of a third part thereof, stayeth a lask; and the ashes of the husks made up with old hog’s grease, helpeth the old pains, contusions and wounds of the sinews, the sciatica and gout."