Coral Bean

Scientific Name(s): Erythrina herbacea
Abundance: uncommon
What: flowers & young leaves
How: cooked flowers and leaves; tea from young leaves
Where: open fields and woodland clearings with sandy soil
When: spring
Nutritional Value: antioxidants
Dangers: plant must be cooked to remove toxins, do NOT eat the seeds or older, mature leaves.

A young Coral Bean flowering in the spring woods.
Coral Bean

Coral Bean flowers in spring.
CoralBean1

Close-up of flowers.
CoralBean2

Coral Bean leaves, already too big to cook and eat.
CoralBean4

Coral Bean

Coral Bean "beans", which are NOT edible.
CoralBean3

Coral Bean

Dried seed pods from the previous year.
CoralBean5

Coral Bean

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
CoralBeanTX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
CoralBean

The bright red, tubular flowers of the coral bean bush make a distinctive addition to the Gulf Coast region spring colors. This leggy bush, if not subjected to a killing frost, can grow into a small, wide-crowned tree which is sometimes used in landscaping. Normally it is found as a clusters of bushes about four feet tall in open clearings of woods and occasionally in fields. It does best in sandy, well-drained soils such as those along rivers and stream but due to their preference for dry feet, they'll be back quite a way from the water's edge. If the winter was mild enough you are likely to find flowers, fresh green seedpods and old cracked-open seedpods on the same plant. The spade-shaped, compound leaves grown in groups of three and have the neat feature of always being turned toward the sun, a process which is called "phototropism".

The only edible part of this plant are the red flowers and youngest leaves. Both parts must be boiled for 15 minutes to render them safe to eat. Cooking does shrink them the flowers and leaves down quite a bit so you'll want to harvest a lot...but never more than 10% of the flowers and new leaves so to insure the plant stays healthy and can reproduce. Stick to eating leaves 1.0-1.5 inches long, or smaller. The young leaves can also be boiled for a tea which some native tribes considered to be a general health tonic.

The red beans can not be made safe to eat as they contain a poison similar to curare. In Mexico these seeds are used to poison pest animals such as rats.

Hummingbirds love the sweet nectar found in the flowers and are immune to the coral bean toxins. While foragers and hummingbirds may like this shrub, many other land-owners find it to be a somewhat invasive nuisance. The plant produces many seeds which can cause it to quickly spread over an area, rendering it unfit for cattle or other domesticated animals.

Privacy Statement

I use third-party advertising companies to serve ads when you visit this website. These companies may use information (not including your name, address, email address, or telephone number) about your visits to this and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used by these companies, click here.