A genus of tropical flowering legumes typically having twining, climbing stems, compound leaves, pink or purple flowers, and seeds which may be used as food for humans or livestock. Also (occasionally as canavalia): a plant of this genus; a seed of such a plant. Compare "jack bean", "sword-bean".
Early 19th century. From scientific Latin Canavalia, name of a genus of leguminous plants, apparently from post-classical Latin Canavali, denoting a plant of this genus, itself apparently from a compound in a Dravidian language of the Malabar Coast.