Growing and Harvesting Fava Beans

what follows is a translation of the my interview with Sandra Bowman on February 4, 2010 which includes the questions I asked and her answers:

Robert Rodgers, Ph.D.
Parkinsons Recovery

1. How did you come to try fava beans as therapy for PD?

I started searching books for possible natural treatments for PD in January 1009. Came across a book “Green Pharmacy” by James A .Duke PhD.  He spoke of favas for PD & that started the ball rolling…lots of research and a search for seeds to plant. I am an organic gardener and am fascinated with herbs and natural this was a new challenge for me.

2. Why are fava beans supposed to give relief from PD symptoms?

The whole aerial plant contains l-dopa. Especially, the immature green pods.  Since it is a natural form of l-dopa, the body recognizes & utilizes it very efficiently. Part of this is because it is a whole food, not a synthetic, man made form…..just God -given.

3. How have fava beans helped you and your friend?

My friend takes a small amount of sinemet and a couple of beans at medication times.  The favas are supplying most of her l-dopa. This seems to be giving her longer “on” times . Taking less sinemet seems to mean less withdrawal time from sinemet. She tries to take all of her sinemet before lunch time and then supplement in the afternoon with bean products dries bean chips/ bean cookies/tincture, etc… Personally, I am not on any pharmaceuticals for PD,  and just taking a few drops of tincture when I feel PD symptoms coming on, is enough to let me get through the day symptom free.

4. Can everyone use fava beans?

No.  Some people have  a genetic condition called favism. People with favism have an deficiency that makes it very dangerous to use favas…consumption can be fatal.  There is a simple blood test called a G6PD which detects if you have this condition and should not use fava beans. The test cost me $65. and was well worth it.

5. How do you prepare fava beans?

I have found that picking the immature pods at about 2 1/2 inches is the best for us. They have a great buttery taste and no strings.  We steam them for about 6 minutes,/ then freeze them on cookie sheets for about 15 minutes/then place them in  freezer bags and return them to the freezer. My friend enjoys  them the right from the freezer…2-4 pods with her sinemet dose .. Bean chips & cookies were made by putting large favas (past the stage of eating the pod) through a Champion Juicer, which takes out all the indigestible fiber, etc. ..and using that juice to make tasty l-dopa treats. We keep our “treats” frozen and use them to ward off symptoms,  They are great also for car trips, just to carry along if needed.  The possibilities are endless.

6. Are fava beans hard to grow?

They were a pleasure to me, but some people would consider them difficult. Some of the plants become tall, depending on the variety of fava and on the composition of the soil. Ours had to be staked to prevent them from falling over when they reach about 4 foot. (Falling over can break the plant/ or they sometimes start getting discolored leaves and beans because of close contact to the ground..neither of which I wanted). So, I hammered stakes in each row with about 6 plants in between, and did what is called a Florida weave to secure them in upright position.

I learned to do this when growing a field of tomatoes one year. When  done properly, a whole field can be tied  in a very short time. A couple of weeks later. A second level of string is used to envelope the plants as they grow taller. The biggest time consumer is hammering stakes if you grow a large crop. The plants are very hardy and ours survived temperatures down to 26 degrees here in Tennessee. When it dropped lower, they were hit hard……though it looks like they may come back from the roots possibly if the weather ever warms up again.  This is the coldest winter I have seen here. Favas like cool weather. They are actually in the pea family/ and not a bean. They do not tolerate very hot weather. I plan to plant my spring crop, Lord willing, in the end of February or first of March.  Once you look at the beautiful, and prolific  flowers on the plants, you will see why the bees and other insects migrate to your favas…they are amazing.  I found that soaking the seeds for about 2 days, until they bgin to sprout, is best and then setting them directly out into the soil about 10 inches apart and 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep. Once they have developed their first 2 leaves, the root is close to a foot long.  They are a good soil builder and bring alot of nutrients up to the surface from deep in the ground. They are used as “cover crops” in some places plowed under to fertilize the soil, and then the area is replanted.

7.  Where can a person get fava beans if they cannot grow their own?

We have not yet located a source for young/ green/ immature pods. I have come across dried beans in several markets, and even full sized bean pods in Earth Fare…but neither of these will give the l-dopa we need for PD. You may find a local farmer who would be willing to raise a crop for you. You would have to specify the length you want the beans / or go pick them yourself & come home & process them immediately… so as not to loose the medicinal qualities of the beans. It is best to grow/ harvest & process your own and this will be a priority for me ss long as I am able. The beans (seeds)  themselves , whether green or dry,  contain very little levadopa….it is the leaves, stems, and the pods surrounding  the bean seeds that contain the levadopa.

8.Can fava beans be used in conjunction with other medications??

They do not appear to conflict with sinemet, but there is a fine balance between not enough l-dopa and too much.  If my friend eats too many beans with her sinemet dose..she appears to be drunk and tends to fall.

It would be great if each person’s body metabolism were the same and a clear dose could be established, but it doesn’t work that way. It has been our experience that most doctors are not familiar with fava beans and other natural remedies, and will likely advise sinemet or other PD meds.    I have chosen to stay away from synthetic l-dopa & stick with what I know and consider natural, so that my body can  stay at it’s optimal health.

9.. Do doctors prescribe fava beans??

In Europe, people have used favas for PD therapy for a long time. Favas are also a very popular food in Europe.

In the United States, most people have never heard of favas. However, there is a product called Balance D that is available in the US ..a supplement containing fava, by Neuroscience. It was recommended to my friend by her doctor.

10. You mentioned a fava tincture..can you tell us about that?

I wanted something that would capture the essence and l-dopa of the plant, and preserve it. Mainly, because there is the problem of having to grow a year’s supply of pods and freeze them. There is always a possibility of a power outage and a years supply would be lost. Since I have been making Echinacea tincture for years from my garden I wondered,

Could the same could be done with the fava plant?

A specific part of the plant captured my attention, so I went through-out the garden harvesting these little “tops”…a little hidden , protected part of the plant. They were placed in a dehydrator to dry and then into a jar with brandy. This was shaken for a month, several times a day. Then, it was strained.  It looked good, and I played the part of a white experimental rat and took several drops to see what would happen. I didn’t see any change right away, but later, went outside and was coming up the steps and noticed that I didn’t halt on my right hip/leg like I always did. I went back down & climbed up the steps again. It wasn’t my imagination.  Started trying other things that I usually couldn’t do…and kept noticing other improvements… was easy to drive the car, my reaction time was much improved. The list went on on. Decided to take another drop at bedtime…and actually got a good night’s sleep. I have been using the tincture now since October 9th. Still no side effects,  besides lack of PD symptoms.  If I feel symptoms starting…I just take a couple of drops and in about   15 minutes I don’t notice them anymore.

Ken Alan…a fellow PD patient has been growing favas for a few years. I sent him some of my tincture and he “kitchen tested it”. He wrote back that there was approximately 1 mg levadopa in 2 drops tincture. I have been taking this  small dose 3 to 4 times a day to alleviate my symptoms.

11.Can you provide tincture to other people??

No.  I feel that much research needs to be done on the tincture, and perhaps a better base can be found to draw out even more of the levadopa than brandy.  I plan to experiment in the spring with wine vinegar for tincture. But, I cannot test for levadopa and each batch will be slightly different, because of the soil area in which the favas are grown / the time of year the top is harvested/and the chosen liquid base for the tincture.

I want to make a plea for someone, or perhaps a medical school to take on the fava project that I started. I will help in any way I can to make this valuable way of using favas available to other people with PD who would benefit from it, as I have.

12. Do you find that stress is related to the symptoms of PD??

Absolutely. I have never been a person that got “stressed out”. Now that I have PD symptoms, little things that I would never have noticed before will suddenly cause symptoms to get worse…a dog that won’t stop barking/ cold weather, and not being able to get warm./ a doctors appointment/ driving a car/ even being around someone else who is stressed can upset the balance. A pain or low blood sugar level can also bring on symptoms, emotions that are intense., both good or bad ,can “really upset the apple cart”. Every part of our being is involved , from facial expressions / sleep patterns/ and mobility. Stiffening and panic attacks can come on suddenly because of stress,  No amount of PD meds can bring relief , it seems , until the cause of stress is alleviated.

13. Aside from fava beans, what other therapies help you with symptoms?

I do best on days when I can get out and enjoy the sunshine…PD’ers usually have a shortage of Vit D I have been told. A possitive attitude and outlook on life.

I have learned to do a lot of stretching. A few years ago, I was blessed to meet a wonderful physical therapist who worked with PD patients. One of the most important things he taught me, was that in PD you have to train yourself to be aware of your posture  and your movement. Before PD, your body goes through the motions of life automatically. This radically changes with PD.  We must consciously move our bodies. For example: I was in the physical therapist’s office one day when a man & his wife came in.  The man had PD, and was walking with his shoulders slumped over & shuffling his feet. Bill said,

“I want you to stand up straight, and walk forward, picking up your knees.”

The man did.  I was amazed.  The wife said,

“Why doesn’t he do that at home?”

The answer was, “Because he doesn’t think about it!”

That stirred alot of “thinking in me”.  I was already struggling with neck problems, forward head position and slumped shoulders and slight balance issues.  I was determined to have good posture  and started working on stretches & exercises . It was alot of hard work, but , as time went on, I started to see & feel noticeable improvement. Since then, with PD symptoms showing up…I realize how invaluable all that hard work was.

When I first wake up in the morning..I have to stretch my neck and upper back muscles to their limit to get the “giant” (I call it) off my back. Then, I progress to doorframe stretches to bring my head and shoulders up to proper posture for the day. I enjoy exercise, gardening, dance, kayaking and music.  Life is good, very busy and fulfilling. Now with the fava tincture…my life is so much easier and more fun, too. I enjoy helping others and especially those with PD. One of my main goals in life is to help find ways to make life easier for those I have come to love and appreciate so much.

14. Do you have a website that would help people understand the use of fava beans and how to grow them?

No, but there is a man in Canada, Ken Allan, who has been so much support to me in this adventure with the favas. He also has PD and has grown and used them to supplement his sinemet for several years now. Here is his website:

15. Is there a fava bean support group where people can get answers to their questions about growing and using the beans?

No,  not that I am aware of, but it is a great idea.  Could Parkinsons Recovery start an online support group where people could share valuable information about fava beans and their uses and how to grow them?

I am happy to share the little bit of information that we have gleaned over the past 12 months. I pray that many of your listeners will be encouraged to grow their own favas and that we will find people interested in doing valuable research on these amazing fava beans.    May God Bless You   .    Sandra

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