Pigeon Pea

Tonielle Christensen Edible Plants, Land & Nature Stewardship

Pigeon Pea


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Common Name:  Pigeon Pea, Congo Pea, Red Gram, Yellow Dahl.

Latin Name:  Cajanus cajan.

Origin:  Asia and Africa.

Description (what it looks like):  A legume, wood shrub or small tree, 1–4 m tall with a deep taproot to 2m.  Young stems are angled and pubescent.  Flowers usually yellow, with purple or red streaks or plain red with oval to round seeds, colours vary from light beige to dark brown.   Keep pruned to 2m for easy foraging.

Uses (function):  Used as a support specie in food forests or orchards.  Grown as a grain crop for seed as a pulse/vegetable with over 4 million hectares cultivated worldwide.  Foliage fed to livestock, so plant along fence-lines.  Stems used for firewood.  Grown as hedgerow for windbreaks and as ground cover or shade cover for establishing plantation crops (e.g. coffee).  Good nitrogen fixation makes it a useful green manure or mulch.  Cultivated for over 3500 years.  Cows and sheep enjoy the high protein leaves, as do chickens and pigs.  Edible beans, fresh or dried.  Flowers enjoyed by pollinators.

Nutritional value:  The seeds are 25% protein and contain 5 times more Vitamin A and C than green peas.

Growing details (propagation, seed etc):  Propagation by seed, soaked overnight.   Soil temperature should be at least 25°C for germination, a higher soil temperature will improves results.  It can be direct-seeded, or planted into forestry tubes and later transplanted.  Sow the seed 2.5 cm deep.

Best time to grow:  Spring or summer planting, to give it time to set roots before winter.  Protect young plants from all grazing animals.

Soil:  Grown on a wide range of soil textures, from sands to heavy black clays but needs free-drainage. Pigeon pea prefers pH of 5–7, but can tolerate pH 4.5–8.4.

Sun:  Full sun to part shade.

Water:  Drought tolerant, but thrives with water.

How to eat it:  A popular pulse, being an important source of protein in a mostly vegetarian diet, it is made into Dahl.  Fresh young pods are eaten as a vegetable in dishes such as ‘Sambar’ with Tamarind.  In Ethiopia, young shoots and leaves are cooked then eaten.  Soak before cooking for better digestion and or eat the sprouts fresh.  Boil the beans in salted water like Japanese do with soybeans (edamame).  Flowers can be added to salads.  Substitute in recipes requiring a pulse or fresh beans.

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