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What is a Runner Bean?

A.E. Freeman
Updated May 16, 2024
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The runner bean is a plant that produces long, edible pods, and is a type of climbing vine that usually grows to about 6-feet (about 1.8 m) high. While the runner bean plant originally came from Central America, the beans are popular in the United Kingdom where they are grown to be eaten. In the United States, the plant is mainly grown for its beautiful flowers.

Generally, runner beans tend to produce red flowers, which is why it is also sometimes called the scarlet runner bean. The flowers can also be white in color or a combination of red and white. Painted Lady varieties produce bi-colored flowers while the White Lady and White Apollo varieties produce white flowers. The runner bean's flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, so gardeners who would like to attract birds to their garden could benefit from growing the beans.

Gardeners usually start the beans at the end of May in colder climates, such as England, or whenever the danger of frost has passed. The plants will begin to produce edible legumes toward the end of June. As long as the pods are picked throughout the season, the plant will continue to produce beans into October, or until the first frost of the season.

While the entire bean pod is edible, many people find that the pod quickly becomes too stringy and difficult to eat. If the pod itself becomes too fibrous, the seeds inside it can still be eaten. The roots of the plant are also edible and are commonly eaten by native people in Central America. Runner beans do contain lectin, which is poisonous, and so should be cooked before being consumed. A runner bean is a good source of several vitamins, such as vitamins C and B, as well as iron and fiber.

There are numerous methods for preparing the beans — the beans can be boiled, sautéed, or cooked into a soup. Tips of the bean pods are usually removed before eating, as is a string that runs down the center of the pod. The beans can also be pickled or used in a relish or chutney. Fresh beans can be blanched in boiling water for a minute or so, and then stored in the freezer for later use. The seeds can be allowed to dry inside the pods and then used as dried beans or saved for the next season and planted in the ground.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
A.E. Freeman
By A.E. Freeman
Amy Freeman, a freelance copywriter and content creator, makes engaging copy that drives customer acquisition and retention. With a background in the arts, she combines her writing prowess with best practices to deliver compelling content across various domains and effectively connect with target audiences.
Discussion Comments
By fify — On Sep 17, 2013

My runner bean are so stringy! I've tried removing the sides, but there is always some strings left ad it's annoying. I think these beans are best left alone.

By SarahGen — On Sep 17, 2013

@donasmrs-- You should definitely try them, I think runner beans are delicious.

If they're not very fresh and are stringy, you might want to wait to get the beans after they dry. But if they are not stringy (just snap one in half and check), go ahead and cook them fresh.

I like to pick them when they're very fresh and sautee them with some butter and almond slices.

By donasmrs — On Sep 16, 2013

We have runner beans in our garden. My dad planted them for the flowers and they are very beautiful when they bloom. We've never eaten them although I'm tempted to after reading this article.

Should I try them fresh or wait for them to dry and just use the beans?

A.E. Freeman
A.E. Freeman
Amy Freeman, a freelance copywriter and content creator, makes engaging copy that drives customer acquisition and...
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