Plant views: The Asparagus Pea (Tetragonolobus)
The asparagus pea is a decorative and unusual vegetable you don’t often see. For some reason very few people seem to be growing it in their edible gardens. Why is a mystery to me. The asparagus pea is also called the winged pea because the seed pods sport wing-like ridges that run the length of the roughly two to three-inch long edible pods on four sides. The Latin name, Tetragonolobus purpurea, refers to these four-lobed seed pods and the deep scarlet, pea-type flowers produced by the plant.
Asparagus peas rarely reach more than 10 inches tall and can spread two feet wide. Thought to originally have been native to northern Africa and naturalized all over the Mediterranean region, they like plenty of sun and thrive remarkably well under hot, dry sun or warm humid conditions. They also accept soils less rich than most vegetables.
One of the most decorative vegetables with its brilliant colored little flowers, the asparagus pea shows off well in flower gardens as well as decorating vegetable gardens. Crop the pods as they develop. Serve them steamed, boiled, fried, stir-fried and used in just about any recipe that calls for beans or peas. They have a faint asparagus flavor. Mature peas have been used as a coffee substitute and the cheerful, red flowers are edible, too.
Since asparagus peas aren’t all that well known, you are not likely to find them as started plants. But you can buy seeds. They germinate easily. They do best with a long growth season. In low or no frost areas they can be planted in the autumn and will grow very slowly over the winter. They can also be planted in the early spring. Being in the legume (pea) family, their roots will help enrich your soil with nitrogen. Crop them while they are small – less than two inches – while they are tender. Pods that grow too large and tough can still offer seeds to be used like any other dried pea or bean.
Decorative, tasty and nutritious, the asparagus pea is a fun addition to the edible garden and deserves to be grown more often. You will also find these unusual vegetables referred to as ‘winged peas’ or listed as Lotus tetragonolobus.
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