Beloved among gardeners for their delicate flowers and intoxicating scent, sweet peas look and smell delicious, but are they as innocuous as they seem, and can we ever put them on our plates? While it may be tempting to decorate a salad with the beautiful flowers, or try the seeds in their alluring green pods, you’re better off avoiding it. Unless you’re putting cut stems in a vase on your windowsill, it is best to keep sweet peas out of the kitchen and out of your mouth!
Are any parts of the sweet pea plant edible?
Despite the name, sweet pea, the actual seeds of the plant are anything but. Sweet pea seeds contain a cocktail of unpleasant toxins, which if eaten in large quantities can cause a condition called Lathyrus. This has a long list of serious side effects, from difficulty breathing to seizures and even paralysis. The good news is that this usually only occurs after eating the seeds in large quantities over a long period of time. Opinion is divided on just how bad eating the odd one here or there is, but our advice is to play it safe and steer clear. If you do happen to spot someone having a nibble, monitor the situation and if you’re unsure, call a doctor for a second opinion.
The flowers are also mildly toxic, so despite the resurgence in popularity of edible flowers, you won’t be able to use your sweet pea blooms to impress your dinner guests. The pea shoot, the very end of the vine including the tendrils, blossoms, leaves and stem, should also be avoided. There are large number of edible pea varieties to tickle your taste buds, so save the sweet peas for flower arrangements and scented bouquets instead.
Sweet Peas vs Regular Peas
Although they are both part of the legume family, that is where the similarities between sweet peas and common garden peas end. There are a huge range of edible, vegetable peas – English peas, snow peas and sugar snap, to name just a few! While they may not look the part like their distant sweet pea cousins, they are safe and delicious to eat! Along with the peas themselves, even the shoots, leaves and tendrils of garden peas can be used for delicate, edible garnishes.
What about pets?
Just as with humans, the general consensus on pets and sweet pea consumption is that it should be avoided. Dogs, cats, cattle, and sheep are all susceptible to sweet pea poisoning, with some of the most common side effects being abdominal pain, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, and seizures. These symptoms can take a while to appear, so unless you have seen your pet actually eat the plant, it can be difficult to establish the cause. Your dog or cat nibbling on the odd one probably won’t spell disaster, as similarly with humans, the amount eaten plays a significant role, but definitely discourage them from eating the lot.
Nasty side effects aside, sweet peas will be nowhere near as delicious as their edible cousins! Stick to garden peas, snap peas or snow peas for your dinner plate and leave the sweet peas looking the part in the garden.