Cow Peas vs. Sweet Peas

Brimfield, MA(Zone 5a)


What is the difference between "cow peas" and sweet peas? The desciptions I am reading of cow peas make them sound like regular peas, so why are they called "cow peas?" It makes me think they are for cows, but Baker Creek says they can be used like sweet peas. It's not like we have cow tomatoes or cow potatoes (at least that I know of... ;). I just don't understand why they can't be called "peas" why the "cow" part of it??? As always, thank you for your patience in answering my question.


Waynesboro, MS(Zone 8a)

So called Cow Peas are Vigna unguiculata subsp.unguiculata a hot weather staple of southern gardeners and taste more like beans or peanuts. Sweet Peas,Pisum sativum are a cool weather veg and in my humble opinion the so called cow pea is far superior.
In the north cow pea hay was fed to cattle thus the northern name.
In the south it is only known as peas.
Asparagus or yard long bean is also a Vigna species and tast simular as the southern pea.

This message was edited Apr 9, 2007 7:23 AM

Augusta, GA(Zone 8a)

Sweet pea usually means Lathyrus odoratus the flower. These are inedible, slightly poisonous even. The little green peas that you are probably referring to are commonly called English peas or Garden peas Pisum sativum These are a cool weather crop that will stand frosts and light freezes. Cow peas also called southern peas Vigna unguiculata are a warm weather crop. The most popular is the Blackeyed pea , but there are many types ranging from the tiny Clay, Lady to the large crowder types like Collossas. Taste and texture are quite different from English peas. They are also different than beans P. vulgaris but more akin than to English peas. Cow pea is a derogatory name given because they were the primary food of the lower classes in the south and also because they have been used as forage crops for cattle. There are also cow pumpkins, because people use to feed them to cattle in the winter. Cows won't eat potatoes or tomatoes so there was never any excuse for naming them.

Benton, KY(Zone 7a)

Ok, here goes... I just read the other posts while typing, and they pretty much echo what I'm saying too....just a bit more history lesson in my response....

Cowpeas got their name way back in the olden days, when the 'landed gentry' of the Eastern Seaboard felt it was beneath them to eat food that was considered fodder for livestock.

Cowpeas, Southern Peas,Stock Peas, Field Peas are all the same name for Vigna unguiculata. This plant originates in north Africa and was brought to this country via the slave trade. It is primarily grown in the South, as it likes warm temps and has a longer maturity time than the 'English Peas', sweet peas, garden peas...Pisum sativum.

Here in the South, cowpeas are just called 'peas'...we denote the difference by tacking a descriptive on the English Pea. Ask anyone south of the Ohio River about peas, and they will automatically think of Cowpeas...

It seems that the poorer farmers and the hardy pioneers discovered something that their 'upper class' neighbors refused to find out...cowpeas are nutritious, prolific and filling, are easily stored dry, and have few pests when growing....

The landed gentry were also the same ones who declared the tomato poisonous...while their 'less educated' neighbors were eating them with gusto...

Brimfield, MA(Zone 5a)

You guys are the best, thanks as always!

Aurora, CO(Zone 5b)

Guess I'm the poor, southern folk who grew up eating cowpeas(black-eyed ones, anyhow- and yeah I live in Colorado these days, but was born in Beaumont). Slow cook like beans, with a couple of hamhocks, trinity(diced onion, celery and carrot), and some seasoning, serve with rice, steamed or boiled greens(or cabage), some corn bread, and you've got a meal you won't forget!!! Other 'sweet peas' are just a side dish.

Augusta, GA(Zone 8a)

We need to be careful using the term "sweet pea" for English peas. We have even had enquiries on Daves Garden about eating sweet peas when the person was referring to the common flower Lathyrus odoratus. I don't of any deaths resulting from eating them, but we certainly don't want to entice novices to eat them. Lets reserve the term Sweet Pea for Lathyrus odoratus

Rome, GA(Zone 7b)

I have this problem with planting seeds. I can't stop especially on a day like today when the 'weather authorities' assure me we will get some big storms tomorrow. This relates to peas, trust me.

When I made a bunch of places for germinating seeds in our house, my wife appropriated a bunch of them and planted flowers. There are now sweet peas, moonflowers and morning glory trying to strangle any vegetable I grow. So I decided to make use of them.

At the farm where my veggies are growing, the previous owner built these exquisite stone posts with planters by the driveway. So I planted them with 'sweet peas', four o'clocks and marigolds. In the recent cold weather it all died but the sweet peas. I look forward to their blooms all summer draping over the rocks.

So that's sweet peas, what about regular old shelling peas, snap peas or asian snow peas?

I have several hundred feet of fence I planted these on and the cold slowed them but they are all alive and producing. I ate a bunch of them today while I was working. They're very sweet. I tried snow, snap and regular shelling peas fresh today and I'm thinking of just growing snap peas next year because they're so good.

'Cow peas' or 'Southern Peas'. I have never eaten these but I suspect I would like them because my dad would usually make 'navy beans' or 'great northern beans' every weekend.

I have an area of about 1/2 acre of forest that I have newly cleared. I cover cropped it in Southern Peas along with Soybeans and Clover so I will definetly try some this year.

Thumbnail by jkehl
Murfreesboro, TN(Zone 7a)

I don't think cow peas taste anything like the "navy" or "great northern" beans, myself. By the way, you can eat them like green beans - stir fried asian style they make a pretty good substitute for the "yard long" or "asaparagus" beans. To me, they have a "nuttier" flavor than green beans (when used green bean style). I didn't know the foilage was used for hay or fodder - do you think goats would eat it (fresh or dried?)? Do you think chickens might like it for fresh greens? Don't have goats or chickens yet, but I like to plan ahead :-)

Sugar snap peas are my favorite. I like the asian "snow" peas, too, but I think over the years I've decided that the sugar snaps are my favorite. You eat the shell and all. I like English shelling peas, but they are way too much work to get a goodly meal out of them.

My sugar snaps are about 2 inches tall right now. Hard to believe they will get to be taller than me :-)

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

All this talk of beans and peas - I can hardly wait. Yesterday I took my Pioneer Shell and Alaska Peas out to the unheated (currently collapsing) greenhouse. In addition to the quasi cover, I put them under Top Hats. I think they will be happier in their than in the heated sunroom. Hope so anyway. I'm just running out of room and thought they were the logical choice.

I didn't have much luck with the dry beans last year, but after this thread, I will certainly try them again! You folks are a storehouse of knowledge.

Sydney, Australia

Howdy all, as you can see from this pic I have a sprawling pumpkin patch with plenty of setting fruit. Problem is the pumpkins become soft af they get to around 10 cm round, would our recent deluge here in Sydney be a possible cause? No other signs/symptoms that I can see,
Many thanks, Cheryl

Thumbnail by cherylross
Sydney, Australia

p.s. that is dirt on the lower leaves, not a fungus! Here is another shot of flower and fertilized fruit,with a young pumpkin that's been in the shade a little too long! temps still around 25C and no lack of sun, what to do?

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Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

You might want to start your own thread so the Pumkin People can "hear" your question. (They might not spot it in here.) I know nothing about them myself.

I am in the process of planting out a few Pioneer Shell Peas into the bed. I hope I'm not being too awfully brave, but the package says they like it cool and damp - and those conditions we have!!!

Sydney, Australia

Have done so, thanks. Have faith in your peas & beans - I managed to get a great crop in tropical north Queensland (Townsville), just grew them in shaded area through winter when temps. go as low as 22C (LOL)!

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