The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 4 (Poisonous Plants), Chapter 7: Peavines

Due to unforeseen circumstances, The Wood Folk Diaries will be on pause in the coming months. Our 2x monthly plant features however will continue to be published.

Dear Wood Folk,

Poisonous or not? Hmmm. Haliburton Flora lists 4 Lathyrus species. Everlasting pea (L. latifolius), vetchling (l. palustris car. linearifolius), yellow vetchling (L. pratensis), and our pictured sweet pea (l. sylvestris). These are all rare in the wild here.

My pictures are of one escapee sweet pea patch along the highway. Lately, on iNat only everlasting and sweet pea have been sighted. These two are not native to Ontario, but they are pretty common in packets in grocery store seed bins.

Sweet pea (L. sylvestris)
Sweet pea (L. sylvestris)

Ontario’s native peavines include beach/seaside (L. japonicus ), pale (L. ochroleucus), marsh (L. palustris), and veiny (L. venosus). There are at least 19 species present in Canada, but they are mostly nonnative.

Edible Uses of Peavines

In Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada, peavines are in their poisonous section as a species. In my favourite book, Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Plants, instead of in the poison section there are a handful of edible peavines in his edible herbaceous vine section. These include the everlasting pea (L. latifolius), sweet pea (L. sylvestris), marsh pea (L. palustris) and a few not listed in Haliburton Flora including pale vetching (L. ochroleucus), veiny pea (L. venosus) and beach pea (L. japonicus). These last four are all native!

Most vetchlings in this family are toxic, but one at least has a starchy edible tuber. That is, Tuber vetchling (L. tuberosus), the tuber being its only choice part apparently. It is cultivated for this! Tuber vetchling also made Sam’s book.

So as it turns out, some peavines have been used for food. Specifically the young shoots and greens, immature peas, and cooked mature peas, and in some species the flower. The pods may be tough. For those along the beaches of Ontario and other places, beach pea’s young pods and peas are edible. However, some peavines contain more neurotoxins. In rare cases eating too many can lead to peavine poisoning.

Peavine poisoning has it’s own medical name: lathyrism. Technically, you could get lathyrism if you ate somewhat unrealistic amounts of seeds/peas which contain toxic oxalyldiaminopropionic (an amino) acid. Should peavines be in the poison chapter? It one of those overstated/alarmist deals according to Sam. So it’s likely our local peavines will find there way into the main section of this site eventually just as red columbine will.

The underground parts may be more toxic and there have been medicinal poisonings. I’ll look more into any medicinal actions in a later peavine feature.

Other Uses of Sweetpea

Sweet pea essential oil is used in perfumery and sometimes grown for this fragrance in landscaping.

Growing Lathyrus SPP.

The typical seed packs for peavines and peas are nonnative but pretty common in stores, usually next to seed packs for non native forget-me-not et al. Happily, all of these plants have native relations you can plant. For peavines in Ontario these again are beach/seaside(L. japonicus ), pale (L. ochroleucus), marsh (L. palustris), and veiny (L. venosus).



Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Please Like, Comment, Share! We'd love to hear your stories and knowledge! Thank you!

Leave a Comment