The bush bean (Rhyncharrhena linearis) has been an important food source for the indigenous people of Central Australia for tens of thousands of years. The species was first described as a genus in 1859. It is a twining slender climber with thin, linear to oblong leaves and delicate greenish yellow becoming pink brown flowers. The green bean-like pods can be up to 20cm long. It grows on stony soils and red sand and flowers between April and January.
The bush bean is tolerant of fire, although very hot wild fires, which are now more common, may have a detrimental effect on its production. The bush bean’s cultivation was managed by indigenous firestick farming, specialising in controlled cool fires prior to expected rain events. The threats to its continued existence are many, ranging from changed land and fire management techniques, to loss of knowledge and use by the few remaining indigenous people in the area through to being a food source for introduced camels and cattle.
The land management techniques practiced by indigenous people indeed involve fire, an element that has a crucial role in many aspects of these communities’ lives (environmental, social, cultural, spiritual…). Using controlled fires, a knowledge that is gradually lost, enabled for example to prevent hot incontrollable wildfires to develop, and helped biodiversity and the land to regenerate.
The bush bean is not a particularly nutritious food source, although it is eaten throughout the whole of the Central Australian area. The whole of the plant is edible, although the woody stems are more often not eaten. The bush bean’s greatest contribution to indigenous health is its use as an antiscorbutic. It is well known in mythology, dreaming and through practical use that too much bush bean in the diet will cause children to lose weight.