Velvet Beans: Everything You Need To Know

Velvet Beans: Everything You Need To Know

Velvet bean has long been used as a powerful nootropic and mood-booster. Find out everything about Mucuna pruriens!

Long used in traditional Asian and African practices, velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens) is believed to exert extraordinary effects in humans. It contains a naturally occurring precursor to dopamine, which is a “happy hormone” that plays an important role in cognitive function, emotion, and mood.

What Is Mucuna Pruriens?

Mucuna pruriens is a tropical plant native to Africa and Asia. Other names for it include Bengal velvet bean, Florida velvet bean, Mauritius velvet bean, Lyon bean, cowage, or cowitch. 

Velvet bean belongs to a group of plants known as adaptogens, which are non-toxic herbs thought to support various physiological processes. In traditional Ayurveda, velvet bean is used holistically for the body and mind. Taken as an herbal supplement, it may promote focus, relaxation, and a good mood.

Velvet Bean: Botanical Information

VELVET BEAN: BOTANICAL INFORMATION

Velvet bean is a tropical legume, which is the seed (or fruit) of a plant—just like peas or beans. Originally from southern China and eastern India, it is widely cultivated in Africa and Asia, where it grows in sandy soils and requires a long growing season.

Velvet bean bears white, lavender, or purple flowers and develops seed pods up to 15cm long with 3 to 6 seeds per pod. The pods are covered in orange, bristle-like hairs that cause severe itch if they come into contact with skin; this is why the plant also has the nickname “cowitch”.

Active Ingredients And Effects

VELVET BEAN: ACTIVE INGREDIENTS AND EFFECTS

The most significant compound in Mucuna pruriens is ʟ-DOPA, an amino acid needed by the brain to produce dopamine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that plays an important role in motivation, pleasure, and emotions. If the body can’t produce sufficient dopamine, this can lead to lethargy, learning difficulties, and an inability to focus. Research[1] has shown that taking velvet bean as a supplement can boost dopamine levels in humans.

Others can also benefit from taking Mucuna pruriens: ʟ-DOPA is thought to act as a natural nootropic to improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, and motivation. With its energising and mood-boosting properties, velvet bean is also an effective natural aphrodisiac.

Benefits Of Velvet Bean

Dopamine is a vital chemical messenger in our brain. Along with hormones such as serotonin and oestrogen, it is sometimes referred to as a “happy hormone”.

When velvet bean is taken as a supplement, it has been shown to increase dopamine concentrations in the nervous system and the brain—with various beneficial effects.

Relaxation And Mood

BENEFITS OF VELVET BEAN: RELAXATION AND MOOD

In a study[2] published in 2014, researchers looked to see if Mucuna pruriens was capable of promoting relaxation in rats through a series of tension-inducing tests. Using different experimental models with different means of administration, the researchers found Mucuna pruriens extract to exhibit a significant positive effect.

There is also evidence that velvet bean can prove beneficial for the mood. When researchers administered Mucuna pruriens to mice put through a series of tests[3], they found it to increase activity and reduce immobility levels in a way comparable to accepted and more common methods.

Cognitive Function And Learning

BENEFITS OF VELVET BEAN: COGNITIVE FUNCTION AND LEARNING

In various cultures, and for at least 2,000 years, Mucuna pruriens has been used as a natural mental energiser for improved clarity, focus, and reaction time. Here too, science is now catching up to what humans have known for a long time already.

In one related study[4], researchers gave eight young adults single 200mg doses of ʟ-DOPA before assessing their reaction time in a test. The scientists found that reaction time, as well as motor time, of the subjects who received ʟ-DOPA was shorter when compared to the placebo group.

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Studies have also been performed to see whether ʟ-DOPA can enhance learning capabilities. In a double-blind[5], placebo-controlled study published in 2015, a group of participants received 100mg of ʟ-DOPA, while another group received a placebo.

The ʟ-DOPA group showed “superior recall accuracy for new words over five learning sessions compared with the placebo group”, suggesting that “dopamine boosts initial lexical acquisition and enhances longer-term consolidation of words learnt with semantic information, consistent with dopaminergic enhancement of semantic salience”.

Based on these results, there is indeed strong evidence for the nootropic, brain-enhancing potential of velvet bean.

As An Aphrodisiac

BENEFITS OF VELVET BEAN: AS AN APHRODISIAC

As for the purported benefits of taking velvet bean to support a healthy sex drive, many users have said that Mucuna pruriens puts them in ‘the mood for love.'  It is also suggested that taking it in combination with Passiflora incarnata (passion flower) will boost and enhance velvet bean's lust-inducing qualities.

Traditional Use

VELVET BEAN: TRADITIONAL USE

In Asian and African cultures, velvet bean is valued as a traditional superfood and holistic herb. In the Himalayas and Mauritius, pods and beans from the plant are boiled and served as food. In Guatemala and Mexico, velvet beans are roasted and ground, then brewed into a coffee-like beverage.

In traditional Ayurveda, velvet bean is an important substance that helps to balance the three Ayurvedic states: vata, pitta, and kapha, which energise and nourish the body and mind. Velvet bean is widely used to boost the mood, grow muscle mass, support restful sleep, promote digestion, and for many other purposes.

Growing Mucuna Pruriens

GROWING MUCUNA PRURIENS

Mucuna pruriens is a low-maintenance plant, and you can grow it easily at home. It is recommended to plant it out in spring or summer once there is no chance of frost and soil temperature is at least 18°C. Plant the seeds in well-draining soil about 1–5cm deep.

Plants need few, if any, additional nutrients as they can take all they need from the existing soil. You can, however, add phosphorus, which the plant will respond well to. Grown in good conditions, the vines of velvet bean can get very tall, up to a 4–5m, and they can easily overgrow other plants, so keep that in mind. Their root system can grow even larger.

If you want to harvest fresh pods, they are ready when the beans inside have filled out nicely but the pods haven’t yet dried out. If you want the seeds, such as for making powders or beverages, you can just leave the pods to dry on the vine and harvest them when they are hard.

Be careful when harvesting! Although some garden varieties of velvet bean are now available without the itching bristles, many varieties do have the irritating hairs, which you don’t want to get anywhere near your bare skin. If you’re growing these varieties, make sure to use gloves for harvesting and ensure that children and pets can’t get near the plants!

How To Use Velvet Bean

HOW TO USE VELVET BEAN

The seeds and leaves of velvet bean have nootropic properties, and you can use them to make powders and extracts. There are several ways you can use your velvet beans.

Put fresh green pods into a pot with water, add salt, and boil until the pods are soft and start to split open. Do not eat the husks as they contain a toxin and could make you sick! But the seeds inside will be nice and soft and have a pleasant, nutty taste.

If you want to dry your velvet beans, just leave the pods on the plant and harvest when they are hard. Afterwards, you can roast and grind them just like coffee beans. You can use the ground beans to make a delicious coffee-like beverage.

Powder made from the roasted beans is a particularly convenient way to take velvet bean as a supplement. Just mix some powder with some water, juice, or yoghurt, but do not exceed the maximum recommended daily dosage of 5g (1 tsp.).

Disclaimer:
We are not making medical claims. This article has been written for informational purposes only, and is based on research published by other externals sources.

External Resources:
  1. Improvement of parkinsonian features correlate with high plasma levodopa values after broad bean (Vicia faba) consumption. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC489215/
  2. - https://www.researchgate.net
  3. Dopamine mediated antidepressant effect of Mucuna pruriens seeds in various experimental models of depression - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4213977/
  4. - https://www.researchgate.net
  5. Levodopa enhances explicit new-word learning in healthy adults: a preliminary study. - PubMed - NCBI - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25900350