Origin and uses
Phaseolus lunatus is found in Meso- and South America. Two gene pools of cultivated Lima beans point to independent domestication events. The Mesoamerican lima bean is distributed in neotropical lowlands while the other is found in the western Andes.
The Andes domestication took place around 2000 BC, and produced a large-seeded variety (lima type), while the second, taking place in Mesoamerica around 800 AD, produced a small-seeded variety (Sieva type). By around 1300, cultivation had spread north of the Rio Grande, and in the 1500s, the plant began to be cultivated in the Old World.
The small-seeded (Sieva) type is found distributed from Mexico to Argentina, generally below 1,600 m (5,200 ft) above sea level, while the large-seeded wild form (lima type) is found distributed in the north of Peru, from 320 to 2,030 m (1,050 to 6,660 ft) above sea level.
The Moche Culture (1–800 CE) cultivated lima beans heavily and often depicted them in their art. During the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru, lima beans were exported to the rest of the Americas and Europe, and since the boxes of such goods had their place of origin labeled "Lima, Peru", the beans got named as such. Despite the origin of the name, when referring to the bean, the word "lima" is generally pronounced differently than the Peruvian capital.
The term "butter bean" is widely used for a large, flat and yellow/white variety of lima bean (P. lunatus var. macrocarpus, or P. limensis).
In the United States Sieva-type beans are traditionally called butter beans, also otherwise known as the Dixie or Henderson type. In that area, lima beans and butter beans are seen as two distinct types of beans.
In Spain, it is called garrofón, and constitutes one of the main ingredients of the famous Valencian paella.
In the United Kingdom and the United States, "butter beans" refers to either dried beans which can be purchased to rehydrate, or the canned variety which are ready to use. In culinary use there, lima beans and butter beans are distinct, the latter being large and yellow, the former small and green. In areas where both are considered to be lima beans, the green variety may be labelled as "baby" (and less commonly "junior") limas.
Lima bean is a domesticated species of economic and cultural importance worldwide, especially in Mexico. The species has two varieties. The wild variety is silvester and the domesticated one is lunatus.
In the U.S, it is a warm season crop, grown mainly in Delaware and mid-Atlantic region for procession and in Midwest and California for dry beans. Baby lima beans are planted in early June and harvested about 10–12 weeks later. In western New York State, baby lima bean production increased exponentially from 2011 to 2015.
Cultivation and cultivars
The main rainy season lasts from June to August and most of the above-ground parts die during dry season. Germination or budding occurs in June or July. The first inflorescence is in October or November. The production of flowers and fruits usually ends between February and April.
Both bush and pole (vine) cultivars exist, the latter range from 1 to 5 metres (3 ft 3 in to 16 ft 5 in) in height. The bush cultivars mature earlier than the pole cultivars. The pods are up to 15 cm (5.9 in) long. The mature seeds are 1 to 3 cm (0.39 to 1.18 in) long and oval to kidney-shaped. In most cultivars the seeds are quite flat, but in the "potato" cultivars, the shape approaches spherical. White seeds are common, but black, red, orange, and variously mottled seeds are also known. The immature seeds are uniformly green. Lima beans typically yield 2,900 to 5,000 kg (6,400 to 11,000 lb) of seed and 3,000 to 8,000 kg (6,600 to 17,600 lb) of biomass per hectare.
The seeds of the cultivars listed below are white unless otherwise noted. Closely related or synonymous names are listed on the same line.
- 'Henderson' / 'Thorogreen', 65 days (heirloom)
- 'Eastland', 68 days
- 'Jackson Wonder', 68 days (heirloom, seeds brown mottled with purple)
- 'Dixie Butterpea', 75 days (heirloom, two strains are common: red speckled and white seeded)
- 'Fordhook 242', 75 days, 1945 AAS winner
- 'Carolina' / 'Sieva', 75 days (heirloom)
- 'Christmas' / 'Chestnut' / 'Giant Speckled' / 'Speckled Calico', 78 days (heirloom, seeds white mottled with red)
- 'Big 6' / 'Big Mama', 80 days
- 'Willow Leaf', 80 days (heirloom, there are white-seeded and variously mottled strains)
- 'King of the Garden', 85 days (heirloom)
Phaseolus lunatus growth, time lapse
Speckled butterbeans from Jesup, Georgia
a. Phytophthora phaseoli is one example of a pathogen of the lima bean. It is an oomycete plant pathogen that causes downy mildew of lima bean during cool and humid weather conditions. To combat this pathogen, developing lima bean cultivars with resistance is a relatively cost-efficient method that is also environmentally safe as compared to using pesticides.
b. Didymella is a foliar disease found in baby lima beans first reported in New York State. Symptoms include small necrotic tan spots with red to reddish brown irregular margins that come together to eventually cover the entire leaf. Lesions occur after around 3–4 weeks of planting and increase till there is considerable defoliation. Lesions are usually observed on the stems. Two pynidial fungi were found on leaves included Didymella sp. And Boeremia exigua var. exigua which is pathogenic on baby lima bean and plays a role in the foliar disease complex. Other fungal diseases on lima beans with similar symptoms are B. exigua var. exigua, pod blight caused by Diaporthe phaseolorum, and leaf spots caused by Phyllosticta sp. and Phoma subcircinata.
Spider mites pose the greatest threat to the lima bean plants as compared to other species such as the Common cutworm (Sodoptera litura) that are also known to feed on lima bean plants. They are host plants for their larvae.
One herbivore of lima bean is Spodoptera littoralis, the African cotton leafworm. An attack by this herbivore induces hydrogen peroxide in the leaves. This may be also advantageous to defend against pathogens such as bacteria, fungi, or viruses, as they can easily invade herbivore-infected leaves.
Lima Beans use extrafloral nectar (EFN) secretion when exposed to volatiles from other plants infested by herbivore species. Producing EFN can be an indirect defense since it supplies enemies of herbivores with an alternative food source. The predator of lima bean, spider mites, also have their own predators, the carnivorous mite Phytoseiulus persimilis. These predatory mites use EFN as an alternative food source and thus the production of this by the lima bean can attract P. persimilis and thus deter their herbivore hosts.
The main induced defense of the lima bean is the Jasmonic acid pathway. Jasmonic acid induces production of extrafloral nectar flow or induces it when herbivory occurs such as when attacked by spider mites.
Health, cooking and nutrition
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||482 kJ (115 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||7 g|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||
†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Lima beans, like many other legumes, are a good source of dietary fiber, and a virtually fat-free source of high-quality protein.
Lima beans contain both soluble fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol, and insoluble fiber, which aids in the prevention of constipation, digestive disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis.
The most abundant mineral in the raw lima bean is potassium, followed by calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and iron. When lima beans germinate, there is increased calcium and phosphorus. Additionally, it is a good source of Vitamin B-6.
They have on average two-fold more protein when comparing cereals that demonstrate a more balanced profile of essential amino acids. The dry seeds can be prepared in multiple ways: they can be coiled, fried, baked, ground into powder, and used in soups. It is a cheaper alternative to expensive soy or groundnut meal. It is also a good source of proteins, carbohydrates, crude fiber and minerals.
Like many beans, raw lima beans are toxic (containing e.g. phytohaemagglutinin) if not boiled for at least 10 minutes. However, canned beans can be eaten without having to be boiled first. They are pre-cooked. 
The lima bean can contain anti-nutrients like phytic acids, saponin, oxalate, tannin, and trypsin inhibitors. These inhibit absorption of nutrients in animals and can cause damage to some organs. In addition to boiling, methods of roasting, pressure cooking, soaking, and germination can also reduce the antinutrients significantly.
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The high fiber content in lima beans prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after eating them due to the presence of those large amounts of absorption-slowing compounds in the beans, and the high soluble fiber content. Soluble fiber absorbs water in the stomach, forming a gel that slows down the absorption of the bean's carbohydrates. They can therefore help balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy, which makes them a good choice for people with diabetes suffering with insulin resistance.
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Soluble fiber binds with the bile acids that form cholesterol and, because it is not absorbed by the intestines, it exits the body, taking the bile acids with it. As a result, the cholesterol level is lowered. They may, therefore, help to prevent heart disease.
Lima beans also provide folate and magnesium. Folate lowers levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in the metabolic process called the methylation cycle. Elevated blood levels of homocysteine are an independent risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
The magnesium content of lima beans is a calcium-channel blocker. When enough magnesium is present, veins and arteries relax, which reduces resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the body.
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