Nature’s own Valentine
Today we were blessed with the most extraordinary Valentine’s gift from the Mother of the Sea herself. A Molucca Bean, also known as Sea Heart, is the seed of a tropical vine known as Monkey Ladder, or Entada Gigas, which grows in the rainforests of Central America. The Monkey Ladder holds the world record for having the longest bean pod, and when these beans fall off the vine, some of them are carried by rivers into the Atlantic ocean. Here, they float on the ocean currents, ultimately joining the great Gulf Stream that crosses the Atlantic and strokes the back of Orkney with its warm water. And so the Sea Heart comes to us – the conclusion of a journey that takes at least 15 months.
A help to mothers
Finding a Molucca Bean has become something of an obsession over the last couple of years for Chris and me. Our boys have had endless amusement by picking up smooth, heart shaped beach stones and running up to us with them, pretending to have found one. So when Chris at long last found one for real, I first refused to believe it!
It must really have been a gift from the Mother of the Sea, who in Orkney folklore is the personification of the kind and bountiful summer ocean who fights down winter and brings us spring and fertility each year. Because the Sea Heart is really a mother’s gift: Both here in Scotland, and in Norway where I grew up, the traditional belief is that the Sea Heart is a powerful charm for easier childbirth, which were passed down from mother to daughter.
Centuries of fascination
Molucca Beans have fascinated scholars and antiquarians for centuries. As I wrote in another blog in 2016, there is a fantastic drawing of one in Description of the Isles of Orkney written by the Kirkwall minister James Wallace in 1693. Wallace describes them as “these pretty Nutts, of which they use to make Snuff Boxes” and that there are four sorts of them. They would have been good as snuff boxes because they were watertight containers, which were easy to hollow out and polish up nicely.
For us Harry Potter fans it is also fun to see that a medical pamphlet from 1672 calls them by the name of Bezoar, informing us that they are a good cure for “the collick, rupture, and all distempers proceeding from the wind”, while Martin Martin’s A description of the Western Islands of Scotland, published in 1703, describes the Molucca Bean as a good remedy for diarrhea and dysentery.
Some sea beans have a natural cross on them, and these were known as Mary’s Nut or Mary’s Cross.
Above all, Molucca Beans are extremely lucky, and can be used as charms to ward off evil.