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Vicia faba L. Fabaceae. Broad beans, Fava bean. Distribution: N. Africa, SW Asia. Culpeper (1650) writes: 'Fabarum. Of Beans. Of Bean Cods (or Pods as we in Sussex call them) being burned, the ashes are a sovereign remedy for aches in the joints, old bruises, gout and sciaticaes.’ The beans are perfectly edible for the majority, but 1% of Caucasians, predominantly among Greeks, Italians and people from the Eastern Mediterranean regions, have a genetic trait in that they lack the ability to produce the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. As a consequence, eating broad beans or even inhaling the pollen, causes a severe haemolytic anaemia a few days later. This condition is known as favism. The whole plant, including the beans, contains levodopa, a precursor of dopamine, and some patients with Parkinsonism report symptomatic improvement after commencing on a diet that contains these beans regularly. A case of neuroleptic malignant-like syndrome (fever, rigidity, autonomic instability, altered consciousness, elevated creatine phosphokinase levels) consequent on abrupt discontinuation of a diet containing plenty of broad beans, has been described in a patient with Parkinsonism. This is usually seen when patients abruptly discontinue L-dopa therapy. Photographed in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
- Dr Henry Oakeley