The Hereboontjie, a true South African heirloom.

It gives me great pleasure to post a guest article on Selfsustainable. This is an extremely well researched article by Danie Olivier from Mossel Bay. With so little information readily available on this uniquely South African bean, Danie wanted to know more and set about investigating the history of this unique bean. Below is the result of months of work, Thank you Danie.

The Hereboontjie

Have you ever heard of the Hereboontjie (directly translated as “Lord’s Bean”), a flat white bean with a black marking above the hilum (the place where the seed is attached to the pod)? It is an unnamed variety of Phaseolus lunatus, and our very own authentic South African Lima bean, an Heirloom variety, that is still cultivated mainly the Sandveld, and a few other areas in the Western Cape. The first record of this bean in Afrikaans was by Pannevis (1880) in the form Heerenboontjie and in the Patriotwoordeboek (1902) in the form Heerboontjiis. The Entimologiewoordeboek van Afrikaans says that the name comes from Netherlands, in the form Herenboon.

Hereboontjies, South Africa's very own heirloom bean. The seed was originally gifted to Livingseeds by Kate Shrire of Slow Food Cape Town.

In 1963, Dr. C. Louis Leipoldt already said: “It would be hard to find something more genuinely Afrikaans in a vegetable garden than the good old Goewerneursboontjie, or Hereboontjie, as it is also called.” Till this day it is still regarded by many as the aristocrat of beans.

Where does the name come from?

Through the years a number of stories were handed down as to where this white bean received its name. Looking at all the different sources there also does not seem to be consensus about the origin of the name. Listed below are all the stories I found during my research.

The first story is one that I have heard a couple of times, and to me it sounds the closest to the truth. The story goes that the Hereboontjie was named after Jan van Riebeeck who was the “Here van die Kaap” from 1652-1662. Reportedly, this bean was first introduced to the Cape by the Here XVII, thus it indeed has a long history in South Africa. It is also believed that each year Van Riebeeck sent some of these beans to “The Queen” as it was the only bean “She” would eat. Die queen in question is unknown, because at the time King William III was too young to marry and there was no royal family on the throne in the Netherlands.They were ruled by stadholders and not royalty during this time in history.

Ripening pods of the Hereboontjie. The pods are inedible, it's the delicious beans inside that you are after
Ripening pods of the Hereboontjie. The pods are inedible, it's the delicious beans inside that you are after

The second story comes from the Sandveld. Goewerneursboontjie, directly translated as Governor’s Bean, is the common name that the famers here use for the Hereboontjie. According to them this name was recorded by governor Simon van der Stel who first imported these beans to the Cape. Others suggest that the farmers of that time had to surrender a portion of their harvest to the governor as harvest tax, and that this is where the name Governor’s bean originated.

Hereboontjie on edge showing the two distinct spots on the hilium.
Hereboontjie on edge showing the two distinct spots on the hilium.

Thirdly there are a few people who suggest the name Governor’s bean is derived from the feudal system that might have ruled in the Sandveld during earlier times. This system has a landlord that made land available to farmers who then farmed according to an agreed share. When harvest time came, it could then be said: “Remember the lord’s beans”, hence Lord’s Beans or Hereboontjie.

This bean is also lesser known as the Sewejaarsboontjie or Seven-year bean, because it is perennial. Unlike other beans some Lima beans have deep thick perennial roots from which the plant grows in subsequent seasons. Here in South Africa it is normally grown as an annual because the plant does not survive the very cold and frost of our winters. Only in the tropics like Central- and South America it grows as a true perennial.

Anelia Marais from Elsenburg wrote in her letter to Die Burger on 23 June 2001, that a very old dictionary recorded the name as ‘civet bean’, but that none of the farmers in the Sandveld know this name. I did some research and found that the civet or sieva bean is indeed a Lima bean which has seeds much smaller than the normal Lima- or Butter bean. This corresponds with the Hereboontjie which has smaller seeds.

Lastly there is a beautiful quote that I am in including. Riana Scheepers wrote the following in here column Plotseling in Die Burger about the Hereboontjie: “I do not know where this bean got its name, but if I could guess, it is because the Lords grace abundantly rests upon it.He grows only where others gave up long ago: in the thinnest weakest soil imaginable. But when after vining up and ripening it reaches the other side, it is a beautiful thing. Something that makes connoisseurs sing odes.”

Another story comes from the very same Sandveld. It is said that since the first British occupation every year two bags (streepsakke) of Hereboontjies were sent to Buckingham Palace for the royal family’s personal use. These beans is believed to come from the Langfontein farm between Aurora and Redelinghuis.

Evita Bezuidehout calls them“Bloubloedboontjies.” i.e. Royal Beans

Other interesting facts.

For the proud people of the Sandveld region there is one relentless test for a bride who wants to wed into the family, and that is how well you can prepare Hereboontjies. Will you honour your Hereboontjies, treating them with care and respect? only then are you a good wife.

Some people of European descent are allergic to Lima beans because of an genetic mutation that occurred at the time when that beans were first introduced to this part of the world.

According to Leipoldt, the Hereboontjie is not the one with the black patch we know, but beans beautifully coloured like Amandola marble with hues of black-brown, red, white and yellow colours. He also says: “It is true, we currently seldom find the goewerneursboontjie in its original grandeur, and that it is also becoming smaller, more wrinkled and less colourful. There is even pale-yellow and off-white descendants, South American varieties with a less flavourful taste which are not nearly as aesthetically pleasing to the eye.”

In 2001, Mrs S. Coetzee from Bothasig in Cape Town, wrote in a letter to Die Burger in which she mentions that here parents (De Beer) moved to the Kromland farm near Graafwater in the Clainwilliam district. She was five years old at the time. Her parents cultivated Hereboontjies which was mottled with purple speckles. The beans are planted in September and ripen toward March. Pods are harvested by hand and thrown in bags until completely dry. Thereafter the beans are beaten out or shelled by hand, a job that was always given to the children. All the broken beans were thrown out.

From the above paragraphs we can clearly see that there are a number of Hereboontjie varieties which are different to the one we know. I could not find any pictures or information on what these other beans look like, but it falls in line with the dictionary definition.


Today Hereboontjies are primarily cultivated in the Sandveld. They are common between Elands Bay and Lamberts Bay as well as around Aurora and Redelinghuys, Sandfontein and Piketberg. There is also a belief among some people that Hereboontjies can only be cultivated here, but this is not true. Apparently they can grow anywhere, needing only sandy soil and fresh water. I have also read about Hereboontijes being cultivated at Riebeeck-Kasteel, Onrus and Graafwater, but I am not sure of the scale.

A flower spike of the hereboontjie plant
A flower spike of the Hereboontjie plant

Hereboontjies prefer poor, moist, slightly acidic, sandy loam. It is sensitive to high pH levels, hence it grows so well in the Sandveld. It likes flood irrigation and grows well in unfertilised soil. For this reason it holds good potential for organic gardening.

Hereboontjies are rarely bothered by insects and diseases, and the reason seems to be the natural cyanide content of the plant. The green plant material contains cyanide, while the dried plant material contains none or almost none cyanide, hence it is only used as a dry shell bean.

Because the uneven ripening of pods makes mechanical harvesting difficult, this task is accomplished mostly by hand.

At Elsenburg 60 plants were planted in an area of about 300m. No fertiliser were used and the plants depended on what remained in the ground from the previous season. Drip irrigation was applied at 8 litres per plant per week. After being shelled and sorted, the yield was 15kg of dry beans. (about 5 t/ha), which is in accordance with yield numbers of the Sandveld.



It appears that animals also benefit from the plant ,and commonly eats the dry plant remains after the harvest. The dry material (pods, stems and leaves) were analysed by the animal production laboratories and tested for various nutritional elements. The results are as follows:

  • Total Digestible Nutritional Material             61.68
  • Raw Protein                                                              15,06
  • Fibre                                                                             32.56%
  • Fat                                                                                 2,51%
  • In Vitro Organic Material Digestibility          67,02


Origin of the Lima Bean

Lima beans are one of the seven Phaseolus species that all originate from Central- and South America.

Some sources indicate the bean’s other names as Madagascar- or Birma-bean even though it does not come from there at all. There is however a Madagascar Lima bean that is another rare African heirloom. Source Website

Madagascar Lima Beans, originally donated to Livingseeds by Ken Reid
Madagascar Lima Beans, originally donated to Livingseeds by Ken Reid

According to Zven & De Wet’s Dictionary of cultivated plants and their regions of diversity, Pudoc 1982, Netherlands, the origin is Central America particularly the Andes mountains (from Peru to Argentina).

According to these writers the Lima bean can be divided into three main variety groups:

Apparently these are the original Lima beans from Peru.

The large true Lima bean from Peru, that was originally cultivated at altitudes of up to 2030m high, in the Andes mountains; Picture Copyright LimaEasy SAC, Lima – Perú © 2006 – 2012Source Website

Apparently these are the original Lima beans from Peru.

Secondly the smaller Sieva-bean, that grows at altitudes of 1600m and lower. Its original distribution is from Mexico to Argentina, and it has medium-sized seeds; Picture Source Website

The small Sievia Lima that prefers lower altitudes.
The small Sievia Lima that prefers lower altitudes.

Lastly the potato-bean with its small, round seeds (previously known as Phaseolus bipunctatus). Picture By: Mario Nenno, 2005, Source Website

The recently renamed Potato Lima bean
The recently renamed Potato Lima bean

Types of Lima Beans

The Persian or Habas Lima bean. Picture Copyright© mtilton 2006, Source Website

Persian Lima Beans
Persian Lima Beans

Another Madagascar type Lima bean. Picture by: Petr Vobořil,Source Website

Another variation of the Madagascar Lima Bean
Another variation of the Madagascar Lima Bean

Little Giant Pallar Lima bean from Peru. Picture by: Eric F. Rodríguez R,Source Website

Peruvian Pallar beans
Peruvian Pallar beans

Common Lima- or Butter bean Source Website

The well known Butter Bean is a Lima bean.
The well known Butter Bean is a Lima bean.

“Jackson Wonder” Lima bean. Picture Copyright:©judywhite / Garden Source Website

The beautiful "Jackson Wonder" lima bean
The beautiful "Jackson Wonder" lima bean

Christmas Lima bean. Picture By: Emily Ho, 2009,Source Website

Christmas Lima Beans
Christmas Lima Beans

Patani Lima bean. Picture By: Andrea Hannah Valencia, 2010, Source Website

Patani Lima beans in black and white
Patani Lima beans in black and white

Hopi Yellow Lima bean. Source Website

North American "Hopi Yellow Lima's"
North American "Hopi Yellow Lima's"

Large Brown Lima bean Picture by: Mario Nenno, 2005, Source Website

Beautiful in it's red/brown coat, "Brown Lima beans"
Beautiful in it's red/brown coat, "Brown Lima beans"

Zebra Lima Bean Source Website

Stunningly striped Zebra Lima beans.
Stunningly striped Zebra Lima beans.

The Hereboontjie in food.

You are not hungry for a Heerboon, you have a need for it”, says Jacobus Smit, a farmer from the Sandveld. He says that there are very few that cultivates this bean. He knows only of himself, his brother, and two others. “We also do not distribute it”, he says laughingly.

The Hereboontjie has for years been a favourite Sunday food in the Sandveld, where it is cultivated. Traditionally it is also used in soups and stews.

From all the articles I have read, it seems clear that the Hereboontjie taste is unique, hence the reason Leipoldt preferred his Heerboontjies cold without any trimmings. He wrote that they have the “true goewerneursboontjie taste, which is somewhere between that of a chestnut and dried medlar fruit.

Soaking it to long is a trigger to growth – a revival of the life in the germ – that starts the highly mysterious chemical reaction, which can spoil the taste in an instant. Hence an hour and a half at the most”, he says.

Maureen Joubert wrote in her column, Van Alle Kante, in Die Burger newspaper, “It is not a big gift when you get some Hereboontjies, it is a blessing.


Die Goewerneur se Boontjie

Die Goewerneur se Boontjie” was one of 55 essays that Leipoldt wrote from 1942 until just before his death in 1947 on request of the then editor of Die Huisgenoot, J.M.H. Viljoen, using the alias K.A.R. Bonade. I include this piece because it is so beautifully written, and a very good read. It is not translated, because you just cannot say it as well in English. You can download the PDF ebook with the rest of his essays using  This Link:

Die Goewerneur se Boontjie

Dit sou moeilik wees om in die groentetuin iets meer eg Afrikaans teë tekom as die ouder wetse ‘goewerneursboontjie’, of, soos hy soms genoem word, ‘hereboontjie’. En dit sou ook moeilik wees om hom raakte loop in enige buiteland se kookboek. Raadpleeg maar daardie alwetende ‘Larousse gastronomique’, die al omvattende, alles beskrywende leerboek vir die hedendaag se kok, en jy sal vind dat ons mooi, lekker goewerneursboontjie nie eens daarin genoem word nie. Selfs in ons Afrikaanse kookboeke word hy nie aangetref nie, al word daar soms van ‘droëboontjies’ gepraat.

En tog, wat is daar mooier as die ouderwetse, groot sort goewerneursboontjies? Groen, is hulle ‘n prag, of skoon dit amper ‘n sonde sou wees om die nog onmondige peul vrug kombuis toe teneem, want hulle is baie lekkerder as hulle ryp geword het in die son. Net soos die peule oopbreek en die twee gedeeltes opkrul om die skat wat hulle tot hiertoesorg vuldig bewaar het, aan die wêreld te ontbloot, is hulle regtig op hulbeste. Hoe pragtig is die skakerings van kleur – rooi, swart-bruin, wit en geel – wat hulle toon. Soos stukkies Amandola-marmer lê hulle daar – en daardie soort is van ouds herberoemd as die beste marmer. Dit is waar, ons kry teens woordig maar selde die goewerneursboontjie in sy egte ouderwetseprag, en ditl yk al hoe meer as of sy sort kleiner, gerimpelder en minder kleurryk word. Daar is selfs af stammelinge van hom wat bleek-geel en vuil-wit is, Suid-Amerikaanse soorte wat glad nie so lekker smaak nie en esteties veel minder indruk op jou maak.

Kry dus die ouder wetsesoort – as jy kan. Liefs van ‘n plaas êrens in die suidwestelike gedeelte van die Kaap, waar dit op rivier grond gegroei en teen die suidooste wind stand gehou het. En behandel dit as seblief nie soos gewone droëboontjies nie, want dit is ‘n aristokraat en het sy voor regte, ja, selfs sy grilletjies. Liefs in ‘n lugdigte fles, goed droog, behoorlik skoon, buite bereik van alles wat, soos ons in ons jeug op geheim sinnige manier gemompel het, ‘n knikkertjie kan rinneweer. Moenie dink dit is teveel om van ‘n reeds oorwerk te huisvrou te eis nie. Dit betaal dubbel en dwars want dit behou die smaak. ‘Die smaak, Kleinbaas, die smaak,’ soos ou aia Mina, of Anna, of hoe die ous kepsel ook geheet het van wie ek geleer het hoe om met goewerneursboontjies om te gaan, altyd gesê het, ‘is wat hom goud werd maak.’

Ek stem nie heeltemal saam nie. Die goewerneursboontjie is van al ons boontjie soorte miskien die voedsaamste. Sy voedsel waarde – die wys neusesê ‘kaloriewaarde’, maar hulle is sommer verspot, want ons kies nie ons kos omdat die een sort meer brandhout lewer as die ander nie – staan verbodié van vleis of vis of vrugte en hy bevat in hom self byna alles (die nuwer wetse vitamins wat nou so danig in die mode is, in kluis) wat die mens nodig het om hom aan die lewete hou. Nie alles natuurlik nie, want ‘n mens kannie net van goewerneursboontjies lewe nie.

En watnou? Ja, ongelukkigsê die kookboeke nik soor hoe ons hom moet berei en gaar maak nie. Ek sal egter ‘n paar resepte voorlê wat op eie ondervinding berus en wat ek kan aanbeveel. Maar onthou, geduld en lankmoedigheid is nodig om met goewerneursboontjies om te gaan.

Neem hulle dus uit hul lugdigte fles. ‘n Koppievol is genoeg om mee te begin. Onder soek hulle. Gooi weg enige en wa nie onberispelik rein, volmaak en vir die oog welgevallig is nie. Was hulle in koue water om enige greintjie aardse stof wat daar miskien nog aan hulle mag klewe, wegteruim. Sit hulle dan in ‘n skoon kastrol en bedek hulle met kraanwater, of fonteinwater, as daarnie ‘n kraan is nie. Laat hulle daarin lê, maar asseblief nie alte lank nie. Selfs vir die minderwaardige droëboontjie soorte gril ek as ek in ‘n kookboek lees: ‘Laathulle die hele nag in koue water week.’ Skimme van Careme en La Chapelle! Watter manier van behandeling is dit vir goewerneursboontjies! ‘n Alte lang deur weking is ‘n prikkel tot groei – tot herlewing van die lewenslus daarbinne in die kiem – tot ‘n begin van daardie hoogs misterieuse skeikundige stof wisseling wat in ‘n ommesientjie die smaak kan bederwe. Dus hoogstens ander half uur, nie langer nie.

Gooi dan die water af en vervang dit met ‘n nuwe doopsel, hierdie keer louwarm water met ‘n grypie sout daarin. Maar in hemelsnaam geen koeksoda nie! Niks, jammer genoeg, kan die glansryke, pragtige kleur bewaar nie; met die kook gaan dit verlore en die boontjies word bruin; ligbruin as hulle behoorlik, stadig maar goed gekook word, donkerder as hulle te vinnig kook. Hou die deksel op die kastrol, maar skud homsoms en voeg nou en dan ‘n bietjie warm water by, sodat die boontjies altyd onder en nie bo die water kook nie. Sodra hulle sag is, neem die kastrol van die vuur herd, gooi die water af en skud die boontjies droog in ‘n vergiettes.

Vir die eenvoudige kenner wat altyd van ‘n suiwer groentesmaak hou, is hulle nou gaar en klaar vir die tafel. Veral koud. Want hulle het die egte goewerneursboontjie smaak, so tussen dié van ‘n kastaiing en ‘n uitgedroogde mispel. Jy kan hulle op dis met ‘n suursous, of as slaai met ‘n eenvoudige mengsel van asyn en peper, ‘n snoepseltjie mosterd en ‘n bietjie olie.

Iets fyner, meer geraffineer? Ja, daar is sommige van ons wat nie tevrede is met die reine eenvoud nie. Hulle wil die lelie verguld, reuk water oor ‘n resedagiet.

Nou ja, vir hulle dan: Sit die boontjies terug in die kastrol, saam met ‘n grypie peper, gemmer en foelie, en gooi daarop ‘n koppie vleis- of hoender sop. Laat dit stadig kook, met die kastroldeksel toe. Smoor in ‘n ander kastrol ‘n gesnipperdeui (met ‘n rafeltjie knofl ok daarby, indien gewens), en as dit ligbruin is, meng daarmee ‘n paar eetlepels vol tamatiesous. Verdun met ‘n paar lepels vol van die sop waarin die boontjies kook en roer dan die mengsel versigtig in die boontjies, sodat hulle nie breek nie. Laat dit ‘n paar minute kook en dis op met pieterselie daaroor.

Nog ‘n ander metode: Sit die boontjies in die kastrol, saam met ‘n groot eetlepel botter of sagte (liefshoender-) vet; voeg peper, foelie en kruie by; laat stadig smoor en sorg dat die boontjies nie breek nie. Bedien met gerasperde neut of pieterselie daar oor.

Wat omdaar mee te drink? Dis ‘n gekleurdeskottel, en die estetiese sin verlang ‘n gekleurdewyn. Dus ‘n rooi tafelwyn wat nie soet is nie.


Beyers, Yvonne. „Op soek na die goewerneur se groot boontjies.” Die Burger: By: Nuus, 29 07 2011: 15.

Bezuidenhout, Evita. Evita Se Kossie Sikelela. Vertaal deur Hesti van der Mescht. Kaapstad, Wes-Kaap: Umuzi, 2010.

Die Burger. „Armmanskos in Abraham se skoot.” 23 2 2005: 4-5.

Die Burger. „Nooienshaar op Mauritius en heerboontjies van die Andes.” 23 6 2001: 4.

Die Burger. „Sandveldse heerboontjie voed Buckingham-paleis.” 4 10 2002: 6.

Die Burger:Buite:Nuus. „’n Boontjie is ‘n wonderlike ding.” 12 7 2011.

Die Patriot-Woordeboek. 1902.

Etimologiewoordeboek van Afrikaans. Stellenbosch: Buro van die WAT, 2003.

Freeman, Sean. „Hereboontjies.” Livingseeds Heirloom Seeds, 2011. „Redelinghuys.”

Jaarsveld, Ernst Van. „Vra Vir Ernst:Swamme knak amarillis, Weskus-kamiemies eetbaar.” Die Burger, 3 11 2001: 4.

Joubert, Maureen. „Van Alle Kante: Herebone om die reën te vier.” Die Burger, 25 4 2005: 8.

Leipoldt, C. Louis. Polfyntjies vir die proe. Kaapstad: Tafelberg Uitgewers, 1963.

Pienaar, Prof. Kristo. „Van die Sandveld tot Buckingham is gaande oor dié boontjie.” Die Burger, 2 September 1995: 4.

Scheepers, Riana. „Plotseling: Heerboontjie loop nie te koop met sy geheim.” Die Beeld, 25 05 2001: 14.

Truter, Cornel. West Coast Tourist Guide. 2. Juta and Company Ltd., 1998.