Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

Wild Food: Common Vetch

Edible wild vetch on a foraging course in Cornwall

Perhaps you've seen this plant; Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) climbing up hedgerows? It also grows on wasteland, scrub and the edge of woodlands. It is a very attarctive, wild plant, but did you know it is also edible?

In this blog I describe which parts of vetch are edible, how to cook it, use it and how to eliminate toxins that can be present in parts of the plant.

Where does Common vetch grow?

Common vetch can be found in hedges, scrubland, meadows, woodland edges and grassy areas. It is native to Europe and is common in North Africa and parts of South East Asia. It has been introduced in North America and is cultivated across Europe too.

Is it a member of the pea family?

Yes. Common vetch is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae) which includes cultivated crops such as peas, legumes, beans, lentils as well as spices such as liquorice and fenugreek. They've long been used as a nutritious protein source across the world and are often combined with carbohydrates to create a complete food.

Which parts of vetch can be eaten?

The young leaves and 'pea shoots' can be used as a garnish and in salads. The young seeds can be eaten like peas and have a pea flavour. However they shouldn't be eaten in large amounts (see notes below).

Actually, there seems to be evidence that vetch has been used as a human food in prehistoric, predynastic, neolithic and brownze age eras. Cultivation of vetch is clearly evident from Roman times too.

Is vetch safe to eat?

Many wild and cultivated foods contain some toxins, including vetch. This is why the way foods are processed is so important. Common vetch contains various toxins including cyanagens (think cyanide) and amino acids. For this reason only small amounts of the 'peas' should be eaten raw (no more than 10% of your diet).

Large amounts are safe to eat when boiled for 2 hours or pressure-cooked for 20 minutes. Dried peas can taste a little almondy because of the cyanide - it's a pleasant flavour to eat one or two raw. You can get away with eating more green rather than dried peas raw. The green peas taste of peas!

Seed pods of vetch on a foraging course in Cornwall

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