Undoubtedly the most delicious Lima beans in North America, these heirloom varieties (of the species Phaseolus lunatus) came into the Southwest around 1000 AD. Although known in farming literature since the 1930’s as the Hopi lima beans, these were once cultivated by at least eight Southwestern cultures, including Pimas and Anglos from the 1930s through the 1980s. Other than being grown by some heirloom seed gardeners on a small scale, these beans are now farmed almost exclusively on the Hopi reservation. The beans are eaten ceremonially as sprouts in underground kivas by initiated clan members, or the dried seeds are boiled and baked.
The broad, flat beans are mottled and come in various colors, including:
Hopi gray, Masi hatiko. The light beige beans can be plain or mottled with black. The seeds are brought by katsinas from their sacred peaks, sprouted in kivas, and eaten in soups as a fast-breaking meal by Hopi clansmen. They are resistant to Mexican bean beetle and nematodes.
Hopi red, Pala hatiko. Selected by the late Hope artist Fred Kabotie, these limas are prolific indeterminate viners. Tasty and meaty, the beans are either a solid red, or streaked with black. These endangered beans taste creamy and fruity with a hint of chocolate.
Hopi yellow, Sikya hatiko. Varying in color from deep yellow to dark orange with black mottling, this bean is less common among the Hopi than its gray counterpart. During spring ceremonies, the beans are sprouted, then attached to katsina dolls, rattles, and bows to be given to children. As with gray limas, the sprouts are chopped, boiled and then added to light soup broths as a fasting-breaking delicacy. These endangered beans are flavorful with a nutty taste.
Pima beige, mottled lima, hawul. The light-colored endangered beans are smaller than Hopi limas, and can be plain beige, orange-tinged, or mottled with black. They vine prolifically in the high heat of late summer in the Sonoran Desert. Through the 1980s, they were grown commercially along with Hopi limas in the Santan-Sacaton area of the Gila River Indian Community.
Even though they are important for the Bean Dance (powamu) ceremony of the Hopi, surveys show that fewer and fewer Hopi are farming since a drought began in the early 2000s. These heirloom beans have drought and heat resistance, and so are well adapted to arid climates and tolerant of salt and alkaline soils. Their resistance to root knot nematodes historically saved the southern California lima bean industry from dying due to this pest.