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.