Did you know the entire pea plant is edible and delicious? Peas are one of the earliest vegetables you can sow in the garden. It can take up to 3 months for peas to mature, so if you do not have the patience, you can enjoy a harvest of pea tendrils and tender pea shoots long before your actual peas mature.
All parts of the pea plant are edible. As the pea leaves and stems mature, they tend to get tough and stringy, but when they are young, the pea shoots are not just tender, they are also crisp and tasty. They have a pea-like flavor, but even fresher. The same goes for those curling, clinging tendrils the pea plants use to hold onto supports. You have probably seen them on plates in Asian restaurants and trendy eating establishments—in Mandarin, they're called wāndòu yá (sprouts) or wāndòu miáo (tips or sprouts).
Since pea plants fade in warm weather, timing is an issue in getting a good crop of peas. Harvesting and eating some of the young pea shoots and tendrils are great ways to extend your pea growing season. Pea shoots and tendrils may look exotic or sophisticated, but even gardeners who cannot grow peas to maturity can grow pea shoots and tendrils.
Pea Shoots and Tendril Care
There is no trick to growing these shoots and tendrils. Just seed a few additional pea plants to have some to harvest early. It is best to seed some peas specifically for harvesting shoots and tendrils. You can snip a few here and there from the pea plants you are growing for the peas themselves, but that will prolong the wait for pea pods and diminish the size of the harvest. It is easier to simply sow a few extra plants.
Plant the seeds for your shoots and tendril harvest at the same time you would normally plant peas in your area, as soon as the ground is workable and has had a chance to dry out a bit after winter.
Since the plants you sow for shoots and tendrils will need to mature and set pea pods, they won’t need as long a growing period. That means you can reseed another crop up to about one month before the warm weather sets in. You can even grow pea shoots indoors in the winter.
Harvesting Your Crop
Once your pea plants are about 6-8 inches tall, you can snip off the top growth including one set of leaves. This will be your first, small harvest. Cutting off the growing tip will encourage the plants to branch out and continue growing, making more shoots and tendrils.
After that, you can continue harvesting the top 2- to 6-inches of the pea plants every three to four weeks. You can harvest shoots, leaves, and tendrils, as well as any flowers or buds that may have formed.
Eventually, you will notice the shoots are not as tender as they were earlier in the season and the flavor will start to turn bitter. This means it's time to stop harvesting. If the weather stays cool, you may get pea pods forming on these plants. However, chances are good the pea season will be over before that happens.
Some gardeners contend that leaving the plants to grow and trimming them back to about 4 inches in late July will result in a new harvest of pea shoots and tendrils in the fall, but you cannot rely on that happening. It is more likely that the plants will succumb to the dry heat or insects before then. If you want a fall harvest, you will need to reseed at the end of the summer and hope for a long, cool fall.
Pea Varieties Good for Shoots and Tendrils
Any type of pea will suffice, but sugar pod peas are the easiest types to grow for shoots and tendrils since they tend to shoot up faster and stay light and crisp. Oregon Sugar Pod seed is readily available and great for shoots and tendrils.
Using Pea Shoots in Cooking
Pea shoots and tendrils are tender enough to serve with minimal or even no cooking. To prepare, wash and dry your greens in much the same way you'd wash lettuce or spinach leaves: A salad spinner is perfect for this task. Pinch off larger stems, as they can be tough.
They are often tossed into salads (dress with lemon juice, sea salt, pepper, and flavored olive oil), sandwiches, or on top of soups (they're yummy in tomato soup!). You can always add a few curls as an edible garnish to any dish. Pea shoots and tendrils are also a tasty addition to stir-fried dishes or simply steamed or sautéed with your favorite seasonings as a side dish.
If you have extras you've washed, they can be safely stored in your fridge, wrapped in paper towels, for several days.