Moth bean

Moth bean ( Vigna aconitifolia )

Moth bean too is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. Its earliest mention is in the Taitriya Brahmana, a commentary on the Yajurveda (c. 7000 BC). There are two Sanskrit names – makushta or makushtaka, and vanamudga (literally meaning ‘wild green gram’). Names in most Indian languages today are derived from these two Sanskrit names, except the distinct Tamil name, narippayir. The name “moth bean” is coined from the Hindi name moth.

Kautilya (321–296 BC) mentions moth bean as a rainy season crop. Watt (1889) describes it as a drought-resistant crop of the entire Indian subcontinent, including the mountains up to 1200 m. The most common sowing practice was by seed broadcast. In Punjab, it was grown mixed with black and green grams, more often in poor soils. Sometimes it was grown in good soils and intercropped with pearl millet. It was grown as a sole crop in Uttar Pradesh, with some crop being irrigated if necessary, and it was widely grown in the Meerut region. The Dholpur region of Rajasthan had a very large area under moth bean.

Moth bean was a market commodity during Akbar’s time (1590 AD) and it cost the same as wheat. This meant moth bean was costlier than black gram, a common pulse at that time. As food, moth bean was used for preparing soup. No old text mentions cooking of sprouted moth bean as a food item, although this dish is widely prepared nowadays in Western India. Watt (1889) mentions moth bean grain as a feed for fattening oxen and horses. Moth bean was not given to cattle as it prevented the flow of milk. Lawrence (1996) mentioned moth bean as a feed for sheep in Kashmir.

The Bhavaprakash mentions the medical uses of moth bean, especially in reducing fever, as well as the narcotic property of its roots (Chunekar and Pandey, 1998). Watt (1889) also documented the narcotic property of moth bean roots.