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A member of the pea family, Fabaceae, which forms the third largest plant family in the world with over thirteen thousand species. Of these species, the bitter vetch, was one of the first domesticated crops grown by neolithic people. There are many different vetch species, the purple flowered varieties are all safe to eat, see Hedgerow Confusion below.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Vetch, Common Vetch, Bush Vetch, Poor Mans Peas
Scientific Name Vicia spp.
Season Start Mar
Season End Oct
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.


Small thin leaves growing in pairs opposite to each other on a stem with fine curled climbing tendrils at the end.


Small purple ‘pea’ like flowers turning into pods containing ‘peas’. Vicia sepium flowers are pictured.


The seeds are toxic and must be treated as red kidney beans and pressure cooked and processed before consumption.


Fine, green and having flat sides instead of being rounded. Grows along the ground unless it finds something to grow up.


Anywhere partially shady particularly hedgerows and woodland edges.

Possible Confusion

Other Vetches, some of which are toxic to ruminents and should also be avoided by humans. If you stick to any vetch with purple flowers growing along the flower stem and not in a ‘crown’ on top, and the plant does not have long, obvious ‘hairs’, you should be safe. Common vetch has small ‘hairs’ on the leaves but these are less obvious.

Bitter Vetch has much larger leaves when mature and while not poisonous it leaves a nasty bitter taste in the mouth for some time after ingestion.


The leaves cooked as a green vegetable taste like peas, the peas themselves taste like peas but must be processed before eating.


Very common.


Only the top eightish centemetres of leaf should be collected. The peas should be harvested when young as older specimins can start to build up toxins but all should be dried, soaked, boiled and have the water thrown away a couple of times before consumption.

Other Facts

Animal fodder and as it is nitrogen fixing is good as a fallow or meadow crop.


8 comments for Vetch

  1. Jo Myerscough says:

    This is the most fabulous guide. So many photos, excellent detailed description, thorough information, it warns you and encourages you – thank you so much!

  2. aminur rahman says:

    This is a very good articles . So many photos, excellent detailed description, thorough information, it encourages me – thank you so much.

  3. Kathryn says:

    Researching vetch, I found you. Brilliant! My site is http://www.yogakathryn.com. I will be adding recipes and thanks to your tips I can avoid anyone accidentally being poisoned!

  4. R G Brown says:

    In the 1950s and early 1960s, Vetch plant was often found in rural and nature areas, growing wild. When found, during my childhood, we were able to eat the minute small green pea like seeds, without any harm. During the said era, when DDT was sold to farmers and gardeners, when approved by government at the time, and widely used. The Vetch and wild strawberries, gradually disappeared from rural areas.

  5. Carbone says:

    Apparently same as the “fitches” mentioned in Isaiah 28:27

    1. Alt says:

      Thank you so much for that information – it shows us that it has been with us at least since biblical times!! Nice to know, somehow.

  6. Beck says:

    Can the flowers of the Hairy Vetch be used to make jelly?

  7. Alt says:

    What a beautiful plant – it grows in one field near where I live in Sydney. I was researching to see if it was edible. Wonderful tips in the ‘Possible confusion’ segment – thanks!

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