Sweet (edible) Lupins: try them in your garden!


This post was contributed by Andrew Roberts, a food scientist writing from Woody Point, Bonne Bay. Contact him at arober12@gmail.com if you are interested in planting edible lupins and want to learn more. Except where noted, photos are Andrew's.

After learning of edible lupin varieties, edible and high protein cousins of our native lupin - I thought I was onto the next big thing on the island. After all, lupins grow like crazy all over the island and locally grown vegetable protein sources are hard to come by. Next I had dreams of George Washington Carver-like innovations - filling the shelves with home grown lupin bars, lupin hummus, vegan dog-foods and maybe shampoos. Fortunately this didn't happen, but this past growing season I planted about 30 lupin bean (Lupinus albus) plants with hopes of reaping their high protein, edible beans. These large seeded lupins are very much related to the lupins we know from gardens and road-sides but have a history of cultivation for animal and human consumption in cool climates around the world.

On Lupin Beans and 'Sweet' Lupins

Lupins are a family of legumes (nitrogen fixers) which produce a high-protein bean, many of which are poisonous.

Historically, large seeded lupin varieties in Europe were harvested for for human consumption but required soaking to remove bitter and toxic alkaloids. Soaked large seeded lupins are a snack enjoyed in Mediterranean Europe. Plant breeders in Germany in the early 20th century were able to breed alkaloid reduced or 'sweet' lupins. These 'sweet' lupins are widely cultivated in Australia, Northern Europe and Canada for animal feed and forage and gaining recognition as a vegetable protein source for human diets. Lupin kernel flour is now marketed as a high-protein flour source, and also hummus and even tofu-like lupin curds have been created in the past.

Something extra interesting to our province - sweet lupins also have potential application as aquaculture feeds. This is seen as an advantage to some as vegetable protein sources can reduce the amount of wild caught marine protein for feeds.

Growing Lupins In NL in 2012

By no means was this a controlled experiment. Below are my notes from growing Lupinus albus plants in 2012.

  • Lupinus albus were grown in Woody Point, Bonne Bay
  • I ordered sweet white Lupinus albus seeds from an online supplier in France in late May. Due to expected overseas delays, the seeds arrived 5 weeks later, in mid July.
  • The plants were of the species Lupinus albus cultivar 'energy'
  • Seeds were soaked and planted into warm soil in mid-July.
  • More than 90% of the seeds planted (75) germinated but about half of the seedlings died of an unknown cause in their first week.
  • The remaining plants (30) grew quickly into 2-4 foot plants with tens of white blossoms
  • Bean pods started forming in clusters of 5-10 in mid-August. While the first pods matured, other offshoots on the same plant continued to bloom. This blooming continued until first heavy frost.
  • Fall winds knocked over some plants, which were later staked
  • Plants continued to bloom and pods continued to mature into late October.
  • The beans harvested at the end of the growing season did not seem totally mature as the pod casings remained thick and the seeds were slightly smaller than those that were sewn.
  • I could not conclusively determine if in fact my plants were low-alkoloid 'sweet' varieties or not from my supplier and only ate them in small quantities to be safe.


I think there is something cool about potential economic or recreational development coming from lupins, since they are a powerful symbol of the region. My homegrown experiment can't claim any concrete results, however I hope I can spark the interest of home gardeners or stakeholders in the agri-food industry. Lupinus albus plants grew and produced beans in a shortened Newfoundland growing season, evidence enough that there is potential for further exploration.

Only this winter did I find out that real agricultural scientists have experimented with Lupinus albus in Newfoundland with the conclusion that L. albus has potential as a forage in Eastern Newfoundland.

If interested in giving lupins a try in your garden or plot, please get in touch (Andrew, arober12@gmail.com) and I can share my limited resources for seeds and information.