This ancient and interesting plant was once used in Medieval Scotland as an appetite suppressant by boiling and eating the tubers during periods of famine. Today attempts are being made to cultivate the same plant for commercial use by the dieting industry. It is found around the lowlands and North East Scotland, growing in sand dunes, grassy places and hedgerows, but not usually in the Highlands or Islands. Not to be confused with Vicia ervilia, also known in the vernacular as Bitter Vetch. The Lathyrus species is not Vetch, but one of the Vetchlings, so this plant should more accurately be named Bitter Vetchling.
The Vetchlings differ from Vetch mainly in their leaf structure, having fewer pairs of leaflets, and also in their winged stems. Leaflets are in 2 – 4 pairs alternating up the leaf blade, and don’t have tendrils at the ends.
Flowers are typical of the pea family, similar to the sweet pea, purple or bluish in colour and having 5 petals, about 1.5cm in diameter.
The tubers of this plant are sweet tasting, with a nutty flavour, but must be boiled before eating as they are slightly toxic raw.