Beans are one of the longest-cultivated plants. Broad beans, also called fava beans, in their wild state the size of a small fingernail, were gathered in Afghanistan and the Himalayan foothills. In a form improved from naturally occurring types, they were grown in Thailand since the early seventh millennium BCE, predating ceramics. They were deposited with the dead in ancient Egypt. Not until the second millennium BCE did cultivated, large-seeded broad beans appear in the Aegean, Iberia and transalpine Europe. In the Iliad (8th century BCE) is a passing mention of beans and chickpeas cast on the threshing floor.
Beans were an important source of protein throughout Old and New World history, and still are today.
The oldest-known domesticated beans in the Americas were found in Guitarrero Cave, an archaeological site in Peru, and dated to around the second millennium BCE.
In the New World, many tribes would grow beans together with maize (corn), and squash. The corn would not be planted in rows as is done by European agriculture, but in a checkerboard/hex fashion across a field, in separate patches of one to six stalks each.
Beans would be planted around the base of the developing stalks, and would vine their way up as the stalks grew. All American beans at that time were vine plants, “bush beans” having been bred only more recently. The cornstalks would work as a trellis for the beans, and the beans would provide much-needed nitrogen for the corn.
Squash would be planted in the spaces between the patches of corn in the field. They would be provided slight shelter from the sun by the corn, would shade the soil and reduce evaporation, and would deter many animals from attacking the corn and beans because their coarse, hairy vines and broad, stiff leaves are difficult or uncomfortable for animals such as deer and raccoons to walk through, crows to land on, etc.
Dry beans come from both Old World varieties of broad beans (fava beans) and New World varieties (kidney, black, cranberry, pinto, navy/haricot).
Beans are a heliotropic plant, meaning that the leaves tilt throughout the day to face the sun. At night, they go into a folded “sleep” position.