Broad beans have a long tradition of cultivation in old world agriculture, being among the most ancient plants in cultivation and also among the easiest to grow. It is believed that along with lentils and chickpeas, they became part of the eastern Mediterranean diet in around 6000 BC. They are still often grown as a cover crop to prevent erosion because they can over-winter and because as a legume, they fix nitrogen in the soil.
Broad beans are eaten while still young and tender, enabling harvesting to begin as early as the middle of spring for plants started under glass or over-wintered in a protected location, but even the maincrop sown in early spring will be ready from mid to late summer.
In Italy, broad beans are traditionally sown on November 2, All Souls Day. Small cakes made in the shape of broad beans (though not of them) are known as fave dei morti or "beans of the dead". According to tradition, Sicily once experienced a failure of all crops other than the beans; the beans kept the population from starvation, and thanks were given to Saint Joseph. Broad beans subsequently became traditional on Saint Joseph's Day altars in many Italian communities. Some people carry a broad bean for good luck; some believe that if one carries a broad bean, one will never be without the essentials of life.
In ancient Greece and Rome, beans were used as a food for the dead, such as during the annual Lemuria festival. In some folk legends, such as in Estonia and the common Jack and the Beanstalk story, magical beans grow tall enough to bring the hero to the clouds. The Grimm Brothers collected a story in which a bean splits its sides laughing at the failure of others. Dreaming of a bean is sometimes said to be a sign of impending conflict, though others said that they caused bad dreams. Pliny claimed that they acted as a laxative. European folklore also claims that planting beans on Good Friday or during the night brings good luck.
The name and modern term Fabian derives from this bean