Pea And Bean

Typical of leguminous plants (so called because they furnish

legumin, or vegetable cheese), whilst furthermore possessing certain

medicinal properties, the Bean and the Pea have a claim to be

classed with Herbal Simples.

The common Kidney Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) is a native of the

Indies, but widely cultivated all over Europe, and so well known as

not to need any detailed description as a plant. Because
of the seed's

close resemblance to the kidney, as well as to the male testis, the

Egyptians made it an object of sacred worship, and would not

partake of it as food. They feared lest by so doing they should eat

what was human remaining after death in the Bean, or should

consume a soul. The Romans celebrated feasts (Lemuria) in honour

of their departed, when Beans were cast into the fire on the altar;

and the people threw black Beans on the graves of the deceased,

because the smell was thought disagreeable to any hostile Manes. In

Italy at the present day it is [416] customary to eat Beans, and to

distribute them among the poor, on the anniversary of a death.

Because of its decided tendency to cause sleepiness the Jewish High

Priest was forbidden to partake of Beans on the day of Atonement;

and there is now a common saying in Leicestershire that for bad

dreams, or to be driven crazy, one has only to sleep all night in a

Bean field. The philosopher, Pythagoras, warned his pupils against

eating Beans, the black spot thereon being typical of death; and the

disciples were ever mindful: Jurare in verba magistri. When

bruised and boiled with garlic, Beans have been known to cure

coughs which were past other remedies. But the roots of the Kidney

Bean have proved themselves dangerously narcotic.

The Pea (Pisum sativum) is a native of England, first taking its

botanical name from Pisa, a town of Elis, where Peas grew in

plenty. The English appellation was formerly Peason, or Pease, and

the plant has been cultivated in this country from time immemorial;

though not commonly, even in Elizabeth's day, when (as Fuller

informs us) Peas were brought from Holland, and were fit dainties

for ladies, they came so far, and cost so dear. In Germany Peas are

thought good for many complaints, especially for wounds and

bruises; children affected with measles are washed there

systematically with water in which peas have been boiled. These,

together with Beans and lentils, etc., are included under the general

name of pulse, about which Cowper wrote thus:--

Daniel ate pulse by choice: example rare!

Heaven blest the youth, and made him fresh and fair.

Grey Peas were provided in the pits of the Greek and Roman

theatres, as we supply oranges and a bill of the Play.

[417] Hot Grey Pease and a suck of bacon (tied to a string of

which the stall-keeper held the other end), was a popular street cry

in the London of James the First.

Peas and Beans contain sulphur, and are richer in mineral salts, such

as potash and lime, than wheat, barley, or oats; but their constituents

are apt to provoke indigestion, whilst engendering flatulence

through sulphuretted hydrogen. They best suit persons who take

plenty of out-door exercise, but not those of sedentary habits. The

skins of parched Peas remain undigested when eaten cooked, and

are found in the excrements. These leguminous plants are less easily

assimilated than light animal food by persons who are not robust, or

laboriously employed, though vegetarians assert to the contrary.

Lord Tennyson wrote to such effect as the result of his personal

experience (in his dedication of Tiresias to E. Fitzgerald):--

Who live on meal, and milk, and grass:--

And once for ten long weeks I tried

Your table of Pythagoras,

And seem'd at first 'a thing enskied'

(As Shakespeare has it)--airylight,

To float above the ways of men:

Then fell from that half spiritual height,

Until I tasted flesh again.

One night when earth was winter black,

And all the heavens were flashed in frost,

And on me--half asleep--came back

That wholesome heat the blood had lost.

But none the less does a simple diet foster spirituality of mind. In

milk--says one of the oldest Vedas--the finer part of the curds,

when shaken, rises and becomes butter. Just so, my child, the finer

part of food rises when it is eaten, and becomes mind.

Old Fuller relates In a general dearth all over [418] England

(1555), plenty of Pease did grow on the seashore, near Dunwich

(Suffolk), never set or sown by human industry; which being

gathered in full ripeness much abated the high prices in the markets,

and preserved many hungry families from famishing. They do not

grow, says he, among the bare stones, neither did they owe their

original to shipwrecks, or Pease cast out of ships. The Sea-side Pea

(pisum maritimum) is a rare plant.