Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Prodr. 2: 405 (1825).
Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Mucuna quadrialata Baker (1871), Mucuna longipedicellata Hauman (1955).
Sea bean, burny bean (En). Liane cadoque, liane caiman, mort aux rats (Fr). Mtera (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Mucuna gigantea is distributed in tropical Asia, Japan, Australia, Pacific Islands and Africa. In tropical Africa it is found from DR Congo to Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, also in Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands.
The seeds of Mucuna gigantea are considered edible in Kenya. In India boiled seeds are sometimes eaten as a pulse, e.g. in the Andaman Islands. Aboriginals in Australia used to heat the seeds on hot stones or sand, remove the peel, and grind them to flour, which was then mixed with water, wrapped in leaves and baked.
Root decoctions of Mucuna gigantea are taken to treat gonorrhoea and schistosomiasis. In India the bark is applied externally to treat rheumatic complaints. Powdered seed is used as a purgative in Hawaii. The irritant hairs on the outside of the pods are mentioned as being used in criminal poisoning in Malaysia. In Vietnam they are mixed with food to get rid of rats.
Mucuna gigantea seeds contain 1.7–2% L-dopa (levodopa; L-3, 4-dihydroxyphenylalanine), an amino acid which stimulates the formation of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine lessens tremor experienced in Parkinson’s disease. However, opinions differ on the side effects and efficacy in the long run of L-dopa. Because of the presence of toxic compounds in the plant, it seems advisable to eat the seed only after prolonged soaking and boiling.
Large liana up to 30(–80) m long; stems initially covered with orange-brown bristle hairs, glabrescent. Leaves alternate, 3-foliolate; stipules 3–5 mm × 1 mm, deciduous; petiole 4–15 cm long, rachis 1.5–3.5 cm long; stipels needle-shaped, 2–3 mm long, persistent; petiolules c. 5 mm long; leaflets ovate or elliptical, 4–15 cm × 2–9 cm, the lateral ones oblique, acuminate and markedly apiculate at apex, rounded at base, thinly appressed hairy when young, soon glabrescent. Inflorescence an axillary, pendulous false umbel 10–35 cm long, with flowers on short lateral branchlets 5–10 mm long; peduncle 4–22(–30) cm long. Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous; pedicel 1–2.5 cm long; calyx cup-shaped, 10–13 mm long, 2-lipped, covered with fine grey hairs and long deciduous orange-brown bristle hairs, tube 7–11 mm long, lobes 2–3 mm long, the upper lip somewhat emarginate; corolla pale creamy-green, white or pale lilac, standard (2–)2.5–3.5 cm × (1.5–)2–2.5 cm, round, with sparse orange-brown bristle hairs, wings and keel (3–)3.5–4.5 cm long; stamens 10, 9 united and 1 free; ovary superior, 1-celled, style long, filiform, stigma small and terminal. Fruit a stiped pod, oblong or oblong-elliptical, 7–15 cm × 3–5.5(–6.5) cm × 1–2 cm, each margin with 2 wings, densely covered with orange-brown bristle hairs at first, becoming glabrous at maturity, 1–4(–6)-seeded. Seeds 2.5–3 cm × 2–3 cm × 1–1.5 cm, discoid, dark brown or densely mottled with rust brown or black, smooth, hilum extending around the seed-margin for c. three-quarters of the circumference. Seedling with hypogeal germination; first leaves scale-like or simple.
Mucuna belongs to the tribe Phaseoleae and comprises about 100 species distributed pantropically. In tropical Africa about 10 species are present. Several subspecies have been distinguished within Mucuna gigantea, with subsp. quadrialata (Baker) Verdc. in Africa. However, Mucuna gigantea is very variable throughout its range and it seems not possible to retain subsp. quadrialata.
Initial growth of Mucuna gigantea is rapid: seedlings may attain a height of more than 1 m in 3 weeks. In Madagascar it flowers during the dry season. The flowers are much visited by humming-birds. The seeds are dispersed by sea currents. All green plant parts, including the flowers, become black when bruised or dried.
Mucuna gigantea is essentially a littoral species found around the Indian Ocean, but in tropical Africa it also occurs inland. It is found in coastal scrub, on riverbanks, and near water in woodland and forest edges, up to 1800 m altitude.
Mucuna gigantea is collected from the wild. The presence of the intensely irritant bristle hairs makes handling difficult.
Genetic resources and breeding
One accession from Kenya is kept in the National Genebank of Kenya, Crop Plant Genetic Resources Centre, KARI, Kikuyu. In view of its widespread distribution Mucuna gigantea is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Because of the toxic compounds in the seed necessitating long cooking and the presence of irritant hairs on the pods it is unlikely that Mucuna gigantea will become a more important food crop.
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Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2006. Mucuna gigantea (Willd.) DC. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.