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What is a Runner Bean?

A runner bean is a climbing plant prized for its vibrant flowers and edible pods. Thriving in cooler climates, it's a garden favorite that offers both beauty and nutrition. Packed with protein, vitamins, and fiber, runner beans are a versatile ingredient in many dishes. Curious about how to grow and cook these delightful beans? Let's explore their colorful world together.
A.E. Freeman
A.E. Freeman

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.

Pickled runner beans can go into chutney.
Pickled runner beans can go into chutney.

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.

Blanch runner beans in boiling water before freezing.
Blanch runner beans in boiling water before freezing.

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.

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Discussion Comments


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.


@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.


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?

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    • Pickled runner beans can go into chutney.
      By: Meliha Gojak
      Pickled runner beans can go into chutney.
    • Blanch runner beans in boiling water before freezing.
      By: freshidea
      Blanch runner beans in boiling water before freezing.