The term bean originally referred to the seed of the broad or fava bean (Vicia Faba), but was later expanded to include members of the New World genus, Phaseolus, the White Navy Bean (Phaseolus Vulgaris) being one example.
The generic name Phaseolus was introduced by Linnaeus in 1753, borrowed from the Latin phaseolus a combination of phasēlus and the diminutive suffix -olus, in turn borrowed from Greek 'cowpea' (often incorrectly glossed as 'kidney bean', a New World crop), whose ultimate origin is unknown.
Beans in the Vicia Faba family include Spring Beans, Winter Beans and Tic Beans. Faba is taken from the Latin "Faba" meaning bean, also known as "fava" from the Italian.
The fruit is a broad, leathery pod, green maturing to blackish-brown, with a densely downy surface. Each pod contains 3–8 seeds.
All varieties bear alternate, green or purple leaves, which are divided into three oval, smooth-edged leaflets. The white, pink, or purple flowers are about 1 cm long, and they give way to pods. These may be green, yellow, black, or purple in color, each containing 4–6 beans.
Beans are high in starch, protein, and dietary fiber, and is an excellent source of iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folate.
Dry beans will keep indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place, but as time passes, their nutritive value and flavor degrade and cooking times lengthen.
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.
Beans are one of the longest-cultivated plants. Faba beans 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 and 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. 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.
Most of the kinds commonly eaten fresh or dried, those of the genus Phaseolus, come originally from the Americas, being first seen by a European when Christopher Columbus, during his exploration of what may have been the Bahamas, found them growing in fields.
Dry beans come from both Old World varieties of broad beans (fava beans) and New World varieties (kidney, black, cranberry, pinto, navy/haricot).