Mucuna pruriens

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Seedpods from locally grown line from Zimbabwe.

Two seed types.

Seed variation among experimental lines from Zimbabwe.

Vigorous twining annual with large trifoliolate leaves.

Grown on trellises for hand harvesting of seed - on a research farm in Colombia.

A vigorous, twining, multi-purpose annual growing in Benin.

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Scientific name

Mucuna pruriens (L.) DC. var. utilis (Wall. ex Wight) Baker ex Burck


Mucuna utilis Wall. ex Wight
Mucuna cochinchinensis (Lour.) A.Chev.
Mucuna deeringiana Small
Stizolobium deeringianum Bort.
Stizolobium aterrimum Piper & Tracy


Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Papilionoideae tribe: Phaseoleae subtribe: Erythrininae. Also placed in: Papilionaceae .

Common names

pÓ de mico, fava-coceira, cabeca-de-frade, mauritius bean, itchy bean, krame, chiporro, buffalobean, velvet bean, picapica, bengal bean, fríjol terciopelo, mucuna, café incasa, nescafé, café listo, fríjol abono, cowitch, cowhage, pois mascate, pois velus (names refer to both the cultivated and wild Mucuna ).

Morphological description

Vigorous annual (sometimes biannual), twining herb, stems extending up to 18 m in length.  Large trifoliate leaves, lateral leaflets conspicuously asymmetrical, 7–15 cm long, 5–12 cm wide, terminal leaflet symmetrical, somewhat smaller.  Inflorescence an axillary raceme, up to 32 cm long, many-flowered, flowers pale purple or white.  Pods oblong, 4–13 cm long, 1–2 cm wide, usually more or less S-shaped, finely pubescent with white to light brown hairs.  In wild forms (var. pruriens rather than var. utilis), hairs contain skin irritation-causing mucunain;  cultivated varietes are non-stinging.  Pods contain up to 7 oblong-ellipsoid seeds, 1–1.9 cm long, 0.8–1.3 cm wide, 4–6.5 mm thick and of variable colour (black, maroon, creamy, white, grey, beige, brown, and mottled), hilum surrounded by a prominent, cream-coloured aril .  100-seed weight ranges from 55–85 g.


Native to:
Southern China and eastern India.

Now widely distributed in the tropics.


Green manure, fallow and cover crop ;  in Benin and Vietnam used to control Imperata cylindrica.  Also used as forage, silage, and hay, and the seeds for concentrate feed.  Has medicinal purposes (seeds contain, e.g., the amino-acid L-dopa used for treatment of Parkinson’s disease) and is used occasionally as minor crop for human consumption (roasted beans as coffee substitute, cooked beans and young leaves as vegetables).  In Central America it is used in fallow rotations where Mucuna is relay-sown 45 days after maize.  There are also successful examples of zero-tillage maize- planting into dead Mucuna cover.  Velvet bean is being used successfully as a green manure and as fodder in cut-and-carry systems in eastern and southern Africa (e.g. Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe), and usage is rapidly increasing.


Soil requirements

Prefers well drained, medium to high fertility soils but can be grown successfully on sandy soils and will tolerate and be productive in a very wide soil acidity range (pH <5.0–8.0).


Prefers hot, humid climates with annual rainfall of 1,000–2,500 mm, but will grow in environments with annual rainfall as low as 400 mm.  Has some tolerance to drought but is not tolerant to waterlogging .


Is susceptible to frost but, because of its short life span, can be grown in the subtropics.  Performs best at altitudes from 0–1,600 m, but can be grown up to 2,100 m asl.  For grain production, altitudes of 1,200–1,500 m asl are best.  Optimum temperature range is 19–27ºC.


Requires high light intensity.

Reproductive development

Responds to shorter day lengths, flowering being also stimulated by higher (21ºC) night temperatures.  Period between flowering and mature seed is long with pods starting to ripen 2–3 months after flowering.  Mucuna usually dies off 45–60 days after producing seed.


Some regrowth is possible if plants are cut before flowering.


No information available.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


Does not require a high degree of land preparation.  Best  results are with drilling with an arrangement of about 1 m between rows and 20–80 cm between plants (20–40 kg/ha seed);  Seeds are large and so seeding depth can be as deep as 10 cm but mostly 3–7 cm.  Seed does not require scarification or inoculation with rhizobia prior to planting.


Despite its ability to grow on soils with low available soil P, Mucuna responds to phosphorus applications.  There are also reports of responses to applications of lime on acid soils either from amelioration of pH or from Mg and Ca applications.

Compatibility (with other species)

Velvet bean is very vigorous and its growth suppresses companion species.  If grown in interrow cropping systems, it should be sown well after the other crop such as maize, as much as 45 days after, to overcome this competition.  Sowing two weeks after maize results in a good mix for silage .

Companion species

See above.

Pests and diseases

Few problems with insect pests, likely due to toxic compounds.

Ability to spread

Little information available but there is no evidence of velvet bean spreading aggressively into non-cultivated areas.

Weed potential

Can become weedy in cultivation if seed is left to mature in situ but this outcome would be rare.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

Depending on stage of maturity, CP in foliage DM 11–23%, and 20–35% in the grain.  High mineral, i.e. K, Mg, Ca and Fe, and lysine contents in grain.
Digestibility of foliage 60–65%, grain >95% and husks 78%.


Although there are reports of low palatability , there are others suggesting that velvet bean areas need to be well fenced to avoid grazing by untethered animals.


Because of a range of anti-nutritive substances, untreated Mucuna grains can be toxic for human and non-ruminant animal consumption.  The most important toxic compounds are the non-protein amino acids L-dopa (content in seeds <2% to >7%) and hallucinogenic tryptamines.  Furthermore, trypsin-inhibiting activities have been detected in the seed.  Grain treatment has best been done by boiling in water for one hour, pressure-cooking for 20 minutes, or boiling in water for 30 minutes after soaking in water for 48 hours.  Despite the presence of anti-nutritional compounds however, there is evidence that velvet bean grains can be fed to ruminant animals to supplement their diet without apparent problems.

Production potential

Dry matter

Mucuna has high DM production.  Yields range from 5–12 t/ha depending on rainfall.  Yields in Malawi can be expected to reach 9 t/ha and similar yields in a 900 mm rainfall region of Zimbabwe.  Similar yields have been reported from Nigeria and Uganda.  Mucuna can produce high yields even in soils with marginal or even low available phosphorus.

Animal production

Tried mainly for protein supplementation in bovines, sheep and goats.  As an example, a daily liveweight gain of 60 g/animal compared to 44 g with commercial concentrates has been obtained with sheep.  Also, velvet bean hay has been successfully substituted for dairy concentrates in Zimbabwe without decline in milk yield or quality and has been recommended for this purpose. Response of monogastrics varies in literature.


2n = 20, 22, 24.  Self-pollinating.  Var. utilis refers to cultivated, non-stinging forms.

Seed production

Varieties mature in 100–280 days after start of flowering.  Maturation is not uniform.  High levels of grain production are possible (0.2–2.0 t/ha).  Plants need support because of the size and weight of pods.

Herbicide effects

No information available.



Other comments

Molecular marker studies to describe genetic diversity to enable strategies for genetic improvement of Mucuna were done at Auburn University.  Many different materials used at various locations but cultivars and accessions not clearly defined.

Selected references

Aiming Qi, Ellis, R.H., Keatinge, J.D.H., Wheeler, T.R., Tarawali, S.A. and Summerfield, R.J. (1999) Differences in the effects of temperature and photoperiod on progress to flowering among diverse Mucuna spp. Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science, 182, 249–258.
Buckles, D., Triomphe, B. and Sain, G. (1998) Cover crops in hillside agriculture. Farmer innovation with Mucuna. IDRC and CIMMYT, Ottawa, Canada. 222 p. Available online at
Capo-Chichi, L.J., A.,Weaver, D.B. and Morton, C.M. (2001) AFLP assessment of genetic variability among velvetbean (Mucuna sp.) accessions. Theoretical and Applied Genetics, 103, 1180–1188.
Carsky, R.J., Tarawali, S.A., Becker, M., Chikoye, D., Tian, G. and Sanginga, N. (1998) Mucuna – herbaceous cover legume with potential for multiple uses. Resource and Crop Management Research Monograph 25 . International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria.
Eilittä, M., Mureithi, J., Muinga, R., Sandoval, C. and Szabo, N. (2003) Increasing Mucuna’s Potential as a Food and Feed Crop. Proceedings of an international workshop held September 23-26, 2002, in Mombasa, Kenya. Special Issue of: Tropical and Subtropical Agroecosystems, 1, 1–343. Available online at Mucuna pruriens on maize production and soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics in sub-humid Zimbabwe. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems, 69, 59–71.
Wulijarni-Soetjipto, N. and Maligalig, R.F. (1997) Mucuna pruriens (L.) DC. cv. group Utilis. In: Faridah Hanum, I. and van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds) Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 11. Auxiliary plants. pp. 199–203. (Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands).

Internet links



Country/date released


Much breeding work was done in the 1930’s and 1940’s, but the cultivars released and used were not maintained, and have now been ‘lost’.

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



None reported.