Updated: Jun 16, 2021
The genus known as Lupinus, commonly called Lupine, is truly a remarkable plant. It is a legume plant in the family Fabaceae, that grows well on poor soil and has tall stalks of incredibly beautiful and showy flowers. There are more than 200 species of lupine plants worldwide, a lot of which are very frost hardy, making them easily cultivated in almost all climates.
Lupines may be one of, if not the most important plants when it comes to establishing good soil on rocky and rugged terrain. Like other legumes, they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia through their root nodule symbioses, creating fertilizer for other plants. This makes them an excellent green manure. The spread quickly, both through roots and through their bean pods, making them a wonderful green cover on dry and barren soils.
Typically lupines are grown as forage or livestock feed for pigs and poultry, but in recent years they have begun to make a comeback into the culinary world. Lupines have a long and interesting history, known to be cultivated by humans 6000 years ago! Prized by the Romans, ancient Greeks, Egyptians, pre-Incan Andeans and Native Americans, it is only recently that humans have again started to realize the importance of this incredible legume.
They can be easily substituted and are actually viewed as superior to soybeans in many applications due to their potential health benefits. They are similar in protein but contain less fat. They are gluten free and high in dietary fiber, amino acids, and antioxidants.
Keep in mind however, that lupine beans do contain a high alkaloid content, making them toxic if not prepared correctly. This can be done by simply soaking the beans in cold water for at least a week, changing the water daily. The alkaloids will dissolved into water over time and the beans will become softer and less bitter.
You can eat the beans raw, but some people prefer them slow cooked with some olive oil and garlic. They can also be pickled, added to salads, or cooked however you'd like with spices and herbs.
The bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies all certainly love lupines, making them a no brainer to grow for pollinators.
Whether you grow them for your livestock, or you want to experiment with culinary aspects of lupines yourself, it is obvious that these plants are very special. The fact that there is almost no better green manure plant, coupled with the powerfully showy blooms sought after by pollinators, there should now be no doubt that you ought to grow lupines in your garden. Especially if it is like mine, an otherwise slightly barren and dry high desert. They also love growing on hillsides, making them one of High Altitude Homesteads utmost important plants for permaculture.