Huayruro Beans – Poisonous but Beautiful
Good Luck Charm
The first encounter with Huayruro beans (ormosia amazonica, lat.) took place in my childhood on New Year’s Day. We got good luck charms not only made out of marzipan or chocolate pigs, chimney sweeps, and four-leaf clovers, but also in the form of those beans (we didn’t even recognize them as such) with a tiny white elephant on top (we had no idea that this is supposed to be an elephant, either). Now we were not particularly happy with this non-edible tiny thing – how was that supposed to bring any kind of luck? Still, they called it “lucky charm bean”, and they were all shiny and red, so they had to be special. Well, a couple of weeks into the new year we threw them away anyway or they just got lost somehow in the course of spring cleaning.
It was not until years later when we moved to a neighborhood, where some of those trees thrived, that I associated this traditional gift with its actual origin. It started with the simple observation of people stopping under these tall trees and looking intensely for something day after day. Since there were too many people to have lost something repeatedly, I finally asked one person to hear the not very exciting answer – they were looking for red beans. They collect them to put them in a jar for decoration or for making jewelry. Definitely not worth it for me – so what about selling them? A quick internet search revealed that the price is more on the very low side. More research told me that they originally come from Southern and Central America and Peruvians use ormosia amazonica to make jewelry of all kinds. They believe they bring luck and protect them from negative energy. I don’t particularly believe in good luck charms and don’t wear much jewelry – so, pretty much useless.
Well, as everything changes when you have kids, so did my view of these trees, when we happened to live close by. As soon as my then toddlers got the idea what all those people did, and how the beans stood out against the grass in their brightly red (or sometimes orange and yellow) color, our stroll turned into a nearly daily treasure hunt. It almost became an obsession and we joined the crowd I previously secretly smiled at. It lasted a couple of months until they (finally) lost interest and our jar got close to full. We don’t live at this place anymore, but we visit occasionally and they get excited every time they find some of those beans. Another game all small kids love to play is pouring (any sort of) beans into and out of containers or pretend cooking. Just one word of caution when kids handle them – they are poisonous when consumed.
Or Just Beautiful
As mentioned, I do not believe in any traditional purpose of the beans, but I am deeply grateful for the trees and the happy times my kids could spend underneath them. Also, I have to admit the jar looks really pretty and since they are older and getting more into arts and crafts, maybe we should start making necklaces and bracelets....