mucuna pruriens - Mucuna Pruriens, also called Velvet Bean, cowitch, cowhage, itchy bean amongst other names, is a climbing tropical bean. This striking looking plant, with its slightly pointed green leaves and beautiful clusters of dark purple flowers, is noteworthy for its many health benefits relating to memory, mood and libido to name but a few, and it is quickly becoming more mainstream throughout the western holistic medicine community for just these reasons. It is also believed that Mucuna Pruriens can raise testosterone levels.
Mucuna pruriens is also drank in some regions as a coffee substitute leading to another nickname "Nescafe" (although it bears no connection with the commercial brand). The fresh beans can make a tasty meal but one must soak the beans for at least 1 to 48 hours prior to cooking, because of toxins; this process removes chemicals including L-Dopa and small amounts of tryptamines, ensuring the beans are safe for consumption.
For centuries, Mucuna Pruriens has been used for its aphrodisiac properties. Even now, it's still used to increase libido in both genders because of its concentration of dopamine increasing chemical properties. Dopamine is an important chemical messenger that amongst other things has a profound influence on sexual function and is thought to improve sperm output in men.
Apart from the aphrodisiac effects, Mucuna Pruriens and the dopamine effects it induces, has been used in the medicine of the Ayurvedic Indians in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. In fact the way in which this wonderful bean raises the body's dopamine levels is by the absorption of L-Dopa that is naturally present in the plant and it is this substance which has also found uses in orthodox medical science as a an important Parkinson's disease treatment. This particular usage of L-Dopa was made famous by Robin Williams in the 1990s film 'Awakenings'.
Velvet bean thrives in a range of environments, prefers plenty of sun, favours humid places but it handles dryness or lack of water. It is well worth planting it with other plants because Mucuna Pruriens adds nitrogen to the soil.
Skin contact with the velvet bean pods should be avoided because naturally the pods develop a fine covering of orange hairs that can give rise to inflammation and blisters. Fortunately a number of the cultivated varieties seem not to have the hairs.