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Add them to noodles, curries, or on the side of a classic roast, peas are always a welcome sight at our dinner tables.
There are three main types of cultivated pea: garden peas (grown for the green seeds), sugar peas (grown for the whole pod) and field peas (grown for the dried seeds).
Peas are a good source of protein, fibre, vitamins and important minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Experiments crossbreeding different pea plants by Austrian monk Gregor Mendel led to the discovery of genetic inheritance and our understanding of modern genetics.
Peas are an annual climbing herb that grow, depending on the variety, between 1 to 3 m tall on a cylindrical stem. The roots grow up to 1.2 m down into the soil. The leaves grow alternately along the stem, with each leaf having up to 4 pairs of leaflets (smaller leaf-like structures) and ending in a tendril. The flowers are white to purple and loosely resemble a butterfly. The fruit is a dangling, rounded pod between 3 and 15 cm long, containing up to 11 seeds. The seeds are spherical, sometimes wrinkled, 5 to 8 mm in diameter and vary in colour including yellow, green, purple or creamy white.
Beauty and cosmetics
Peas can be processed to produce moisturising face masks.
Food and drink
Garden peas are often steamed or boiled to be served as a side dish
Sugar or sugar-snap peas can be eaten raw as part of salads, as well as cooked in stir-fries.
Field peas are dried, skinned and split in half to become split peas, which are roasted, turned into soups, or used to make pease pudding.
Peas can also be used to make a dairy alternative, appropriately called pea milk.
Sprouted pea shoots are edible and occasionally eaten in Asian countries.
Peas are a good source of vegetable protein, as well as fibre, magnesium, and zinc.
Materials and fuels
Peas of all varieties are commonly used as animal feed.
Did you know?
Peas are a good source of plant-based protein because they have bacteria living within their roots that are able to remove nitrogen from the air and turn it into amino acids.
There are thousands of different cultivated varieties (cultivars) of pea, including ‘Little Marvel’, ‘Green Arrow’ and ‘Tall Telephone’.
For many years, the scientific name for pea was Pisum sativum. But recent studies of its genome place the pea in the Lathyrus genus as the species Lathyrus oleraceus. In some places, the old name is still used.
Where in the world?
A cool season crop which grows in a range of soil types.
Find it in our gardens
A botanic garden in southwest London with the world’s most diverse living plant collection.
LocationView map of Kew Gardens
Best time to see
Crops are under threat from the climate crisis. Extreme temperatures can stop plants from growing, and an increase in humidity can lead to the spread of diseases.
To secure the future of our food in a world with a growing population and changing climate, we need to protect the wild cousins of crops, like the pea.
These crop wild relatives are a source of valuable genetic diversity and useful traits which could help breeders develop new and improved crops that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
Kew scientists have been working alongside the Global Crop Diversity Trust on a global project, collecting seeds from the wild relatives of pea, alongside other common crops, and storing them in our Millennium Seed Bank for future generations.