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Common Vetch

An annual version of the Vetch genus, this variable, slightly hairy and sprawling plant can be found in hedges, grassy patches, and even sand dunes around the lowlands and North East of Scotland. It is seldom if ever found in the Highlands and Islands. Also known as Poor Man’s Peas, this plant is the one edible vetch to be found in the landscape. It is easily distinguishable as the edible variety by the pea-like fragrance emanating from the plant, the position of the flowers, and the glabrous (hairless) nature of the stems and leaves. Harvested peas should be processed, ie washed and cooked, as they have mildly toxic properties when raw, and harvested young, as toxins build up as the peas become older. The leaves also taste like peas and can be cooked as a green vegetable.

Its leaves follow the usual pattern of Vetches, with 3 – 8 pairs of narrow leaflets with a tendril, sometimes branched into 2 or 3 tendrils, at the end of each leaf stalk.

The flowers are up to 2cm long with a reddish violet hue. These differ in location to the previous vetches, arising as singles or in pairs of flowers at the base of the leaf. Otherwise they follow the pea-flower pattern of 5 petals, one large petal at the top, two lateral ‘wings’ and two fused at the base, giving a butterfly look to the flower.

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