Lupin flower, by AussiGall on Flickr

By AussieGall on Flickr

Who would have thought, eh?  Lupins are beautiful, spiked flowers that come in a wide range of colors – from brilliant white, through yellows and oranges, through to reds, pinks and impossible purples.  They’re a bit of a show off, really.

They’re also deadly poisonous – really, they could do horrible horrible things to you if you just started nibbling on one.  But pretty and deadly is only the boring, mundane part of the story…

The large, coin-like beans (lupin beans, or lupini) have been popular and healthy snack foods for centuries.  They’re very high in proteins, low in all sorts of bad stuff, etc etc.  They’re even better than soy, in many respects!  So how can something poisonous be made healthy?  Soaking for weeks.  The poisonous alkaloids cause confusion, dilated pupils, fever, tremors, stomach pain and lots more nasty things – but the alkaloids are water soluble, so after soaking 24hrs, then boiling, and then soaking and daily rinsing for another week (at least) the alkaloids are removed.

I love plants that are unexpectedly useful – I love stinging nettles for just that reason (and birch trees, and elderberry trees, etc.) but lupins are a new one on me.  They grow well in more temperate climate (a problem for say, the Northern USA, Northern Europe, or the UK trying to grow soy beans) and have been used as both green compost and animal feed for years.

(Note: Spell checker doesn’t like the word “Lupin”, and suggests “Lupus” instead.  But it’s never Lupus.  Except that one time.)