Peas–it seems that people either love them or hate them. Personally, I love them, and there is really nothing like the taste of peas plucked straight off the vine. Their sweetness comes from the natural sugars that begin to break down into starches the moment you pick them. We treasure them in the spring as one of our early crops but with a little planning, you can harvest them in most regions from late spring up to the first frost.
Vegetable or legume?
Both–peas are eaten both dried and fresh (green). Native to India, there are more than 50 varieties of peas and much of the world eats peas in both their dry and fresh form, especially the Middle East and Asia. Americans, however, tend to favor fresh peas. Peas’ nutrition and energetics will change a little depending on whether you eat them dry or fresh, but these little legumes make an wonderful addition to any diet.
Western nutritional take on peas
Peas are an excellent source of protein, vitamins A and B and minerals including calcium, sulfur, potassium and iron. Dried peas are a great source of fiber. Green peas (fresh or frozen) have vitamin C, K and carotenes, that are lost in the dried form. Like other legumes and lentils, peas lower cholesterol, especially in their dried form where they are most able to absorb excess and dampness (one of the ways Chinese medicine categorizes cholesterol).
Eastern energetics of peas
Peas have neutral temperature and very sweet flavor. They enter the Spleen/pancreas, and relax the Stomach and Heart. Peas help to calm down the Liver when it is overly hot or toxic–which is often for many Americans, especially in the spring. Peas reduce ‘rebellious Qi’, a condition when the Qi is moving the opposite direction that it should. For example, Stomach Qi should descend, sending partly refined food down to the Small Intestines. When this Qi rebels and rises rather than descends it appears as acid reflux, GERD, hiccups, belching and coughing when eating. Peas also have a mild laxative and draining (diuretic) effect, making them beneficial in constipation and gout conditions. Dry peas have a drying nature and should be avoided in conditions where the body is very dry and thin. Overall, all beans and legumes help us adapt and become tolerant to life changes and challenges.
A tip on growing
Want to have fresh peas all season long? Not a problem, but you will have to step away from the commercial varieties that have been raised to have a singular harvest time. Plant ‘first earlies’ like Feltham First in late-autumn for a spring harvest. In late summer, plant varieties such as Onward and Alderman for main crop harvest. Check with your local organic nursery for heirloom varieties and their planting and harvest time.
Using peas fresh
Eat both shelling and pod varieties straight from the vines. Use peas to liven up green salads, or toss them in a stir fry or simple grain salad with a light vinaigrette. Peas are wonderful plain as a simple snack and split pods and stuff them with an herbed goat cheese for a summer picnic. Minted Pea Soup?
Using peas dried
Dried peas are used widely in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Because they are dried and have a drying nature (sop up wet, sagging conditions) they are often used in dishes with oils or to help counter oil meat dishes, like lamb. Dry peas do not require soaking and cook up quickly. Use them in recipes that would call for lentils like grain dishes or soups–think of masalas. Snack on dried plain or herbed dried peas–great for hikes. You can also sprout peas. As a general rule, sprouts contain all the energetic and nutrient potential of the plant activated all at once and readily available for digestion–yum!
Peas and rice–completing the protein
Lentils and legumes are excellent protein sources and a wonderful way to reduce your animal protein intake. However, there is a bit of a problem–they lack all the amino acids, making them an incomplete protein. By combining beans or lentils with a particular grain, the problem is solved. In the case of peas, use them with whole grain rice (not Uncle Ben’s) and your amino acid profile is complete. Find out more about protein pairings of lentils/legumes and whole grains in Protein Pairs.
Making dried peas more digestible
Of all the beans, peas are among some of the easiest to digest. If they are new to your diet sometimes people may encounter difficulties in digesting them. Try using herbs like fennel, mint or oregano or curry spice to aid in digestion. Also consider side dishes of fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut. Use kombu or kelp when cooking them to aid their absorption. Chew thoroughly. Consider using charcoal tablets and digestive teas until your body get used to digesting them.