Pea: All About This Plant That Is A Staple In East Asia

Peas are tiny, round, green seeds of the herbaceous annual plant called Pisum sativum. It’s a cool-season crop from the Fabaceae plant family, also called the legume family. It’s grown in many regions across the world for its green pods. The pods are botanically fruits and contain several fleshy seeds within. Generally, the pods aren’t edible; only the seeds are extracted for culinary uses.

But what is the pea plant, what are its origins, and how is it cultivated? Besides these questions that you may be wondering about, there are plenty of other things to learn about the species. Read further, and you’ll learn all about this vital food crop!

The common pea, also known as garden pea, is native to the Mediterranean basin and Near East. It has been domesticated as a food crop in many regions for its several benefits, versatility, and ease of storage. In areas where it’s not grown, canned, frozen, or dried peas are readily available.

They Are Also Healthy!

Peas are rich in fibers, Vitamins E and C, and zinc. They strengthen your immune system and lower the risk of getting diabetes, heart diseases, or arthritis. There are several ways you can use them in your kitchen. Boiled and flavored with butter and spices, they make a great side dish. They also work well in salads, casseroles, and stir-fries. The use of their sprouts is widespread in Chinese cuisine.

Common NamePea, Common Pea, Garden Pea, Green Pea, English Pea
Botanical NamePisum Sativum
Plant TypeAn Annual
Size (Fully Grown)4 To 6 Feet (About 1,21 To 1,83 Meters) In Length
Sun ExposurePrefers Full Sun But Can Tolerate Partial Shade
Soil TypeA Fertile Soil That Drains Well
Soil pHFrom 6.0 To 7.5
Flower ColorPink, Purple, Or White
U.S. Hardiness Zones2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, And 11
Native AreaMediterranean Basin And Near East

What Are The Different Pea Varieties?

There are many different varieties to choose from. Some cultivars have a bushy growth and work well for small gardens. Others are vining plants that spread through the garden bed or can be trained to climb up a trellis. Depending on the type you choose, the size, appearance, and uses of the pods can vary. Generally, peas are classified under three basic types:

Garden Peas Or English Peas (Pisum Sativum, Var. Sativum)

These are the traditional varieties with inedible pods. Gardeners wait until the pods have swollen nicely before harvesting. Then they remove the peas from the pods before eating. Here are some common cultivars available:

  1. Spring
  2. Alaska
  3. Wando
  4. Mr. Big
  5. Lincoln
  6. Maestro
  7. Survivor
  8. Tom Thumb
  9. Green Arrow
  10. Garden Sweet
  11. Tall Telephone
  12. Thomas Laxton

Snow Peas (Pisum Sativum Var. Saccharatum)

Also called Chinese pea pods, these feature flat, edible pods that you can cook and consume together with the tiny peas inside. For this variety, the peas aren’t allowed to grow entirely and fill the pods’ inside before harvesting.

Even though they are harvested before letting the peas develop fully, snow peas generally take longer to reach maturity than other varieties. Here are some excellent cultivars to grow in the garden:

  1. Snowbird
  2. Avalanche
  3. Gray Sugar
  4. Oregon Giant
  5. Golden Sweet
  6. Oregon Sugar Pod
  7. Mammoth Melting Sugar

Sugar Snap Peas (Pisum Sativum Var. Marcrocarpon)

Sugar snap peas have rounded pods with plump peas inside. Both the pods and the peas are edible. The crisp, sweet pods are incorporated into dishes with the peas, like for snow pea varieties. They taste very sweet, and the pods can even be consumed raw. Some popular picks include Cascadia, sugar bon, sugar ann, sugar snap, sugar daddy, sugar snappy, and super sugar snap

History Of Peas: Journey From Ancient Mediterranean To Genetic Experiments

Peas are one of the oldest crops to be cultivated for food. The species is native to the Mediterranean and was domesticated somewhere during the Neolithic Period. According to legends, the Norse God Thor even used it as a weapon.

The story goes that Thor sent flying dragons to drop peas into wells as a punishment, but the peas that landed on the ground sprouted into plants, giving the people a brand new food source.

Ancient remains found in the Middle East suggest the use of this crop from over 10,000 years ago. Approximately 4000 years ago, Europe and India had also started growing them for consumption. During the Middle Ages, they were a staple crop that saved many people from famine.

European colonization also brought the species to the Americas and other regions of the globe. Peas were already popular globally, but they gathered even more attention when they were used by monk Gregor Mendel in Austria during the mid-1800s to conduct pioneering experiments to study the nature of heredity.

What Does The Pea Plant Look Like?

Pea is an annual plant that can grow as a bush or a vine, depending on the cultivar. The vines can grow in a trailing or climbing nature, with slender, hollow stems that grow quickly, reaching a maximum length of around 6 feet (about 1,83 meters) during the growing season. They grow terminal tendrils that clasp onto the support to facilitate climbing.


The plant produces compound leaves with 1 to 3 pairs of oval-shaped leaflets. They’re usually between 0,4 to 2,4 inches (about 1 to 6 cm) in length.


The plant bears butterfly-shaped flowers that can be purple, pink, or white, depending on the variety. There usually are two to three small flowers per stalk, and they are self-pollinating. They eventually bear the fruit or the ‘pods.’


The seed pods of this plant are its fruits. They vary in size between 1,5 to 4,7 inches (about 4 to 12 cm) long and 0,6 to 1 inches (about 1,5 to 2,5 cm) across. Inside the pod, there are 2 to 10 seeds attached with short stalks.

The seeds or peas are usually green, but yellow, white and variegated varieties also exist. The seeds are edible and consumed globally in many different ways. For some types, the pods are also edible and are consumed along with the seeds.


In What Conditions Do Peas Grow Best In?

Peas are cool-season crops and among the first ones to go in the garden when the spring comes. You can plant them as soon as the soil is workable. Here are some extra tips that you’ll find helpful:

What Temperature Do Peas Need To Grow?

Peas are sown directly in the ground, 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost, once the soil temperatures are at least 45°F (about 7°C). They can tolerate light frosts but should come to harvest well before the hot summer temperatures. The ideal growing temperature is between 55 and 70°F (about 13 to 21°C).

Soil And Sun

Find a sunny spot in your garden for growing them. Sandy loams that are well-amended with compost and drain well are best for growing the sweetest peas. Till the ground and add a 2 – 3 inch (about 5 – 7,5 cm) layer of compost or aged manure during the fall before the planting season.

Water And Fertilizer

Water the plant regularly and don’t let the soil dry out between waterings because peas like consistently moist soil. Keep the plants dry while watering, especially during the flowering stage, because it may affect the yield.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Peas?

Peas are rich in nutrients. They have plenty of fibers and antioxidants and help prevent some chronic diseases, including heart problems and cancer. They’re low on calories but, at the same time, are a good source of proteins and vitamins A and K, among other nutrients.

But, aside from the impressive nutritional profile, are there any risks associated with the consumption of peas we need to know about? Let’s find out.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Among other healthy nutrients, peas are rich in folates, which are good for you and your baby. They are a healthy addition to your diet if you are pregnant or still breastfeeding.


Packed with a nutritious punch, peas offer children loads of health benefits. They strengthen your baby’s immune system and promote development. You can add them to your child’s diet as soon as they start taking solids, generally at the age of 6 months.

People With Allergies

They aren’t a common allergen. But, some people with a peanut allergy or allergy to legume crops may also be allergic to peas.

People With Diabetes

Peas have a glycemic index of 22, which is considered a low-GI food for people with diabetes. They help regulate blood sugar levels and are a healthy addition to the diet of people with diabetes.


Peas aren’t toxic to pets. You can offer them as a treat to your pets but do so in moderation. Note that a similar species, Lathyrus odoratus is harmful to animals and humans as well.

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