Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Saturday - October 29, 2011

From: Kalama , WA
Region: Northwest
Topic: User Comments, Seeds and Seeding, Poisonous Plants, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Comment on poisonous sweet pea plant from Kalama WA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

No question, comment only. I am aware of the story of Christopher McCandless (Call of the Wild)and the belief that he was poisoned by ingesting part of the sweet pea plant; however I am curious what part of the plant.I have eaten the blossoms for years, enough at a time to make a salad. They are delicious and i have NEVER had any adverse health effects. I am very healthy and age 45. An old Asian lady showed me to gather them and eat the young blossoms before they open . .she said the are called "mountain vegetable" (loose translation). In the book by Marjorie Harris, Botanica North America, Page 269, it states that after the "Alaskan incident", Edward Treadwell, a graduate chemistry student from the Univ. of Alaska tested the seeds of both H. Mackenzii and H. Alpinium to see if the seeds were poisonous. Treadwell found no evidence of poison. I know many people who eat the wild sweet pea blossoms (mostly the pink-purple and white). The book states the jury is still out. Maybe further research is needed.

ANSWER:

While we appreciate your comments, we are not a forum, but are set up to answer questions and recommend native plants to gardeners. We did look into this a little, and found there are 16 members of the genus Lathyrus, with several variations of the common name "sweet pea." All are members of the Fabiaceae, or pea, family. Seven of these are native to Washington and the one we chose as an example is Lathyrus palustris (Marsh pea).

These comments are on the webpage you will reach by following the plant link:

"Use Food: EDIBLE PARTS: Peas and very young pods. Collect young pods in early summer and peas slightly later. Do not wash with detergent or sanitizer, only water. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: Seeds. Toxic if ingested in large quantities. Symptoms include Lathyrism: paralysis, slow and weak pulse, shallow breathing, convulsions. Toxic Principle: Amine, phenol, and glycoside. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)"

This does not mention the flowers, but if you removed them from the plant and ate them before the seeds developed, there is no reason for them to be poisonous. Frankly, since childen are smaller and more susceptible to substances, we would not offer them to a child. And, if the gentleman you mentioned cooked up a large batch of the more mature seed pods and/or seeds, he very well could have suffered ill effects.

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Marsh pea
Lathyrus palustris

Marsh pea
Lathyrus palustris

Marsh pea
Lathyrus palustris

More Seeds and Seeding Questions

Wildflower seeds that do well in black clay soil from Plano TX
November 21, 2013 - What native wildflower seeds do best in black clay soil? We live in Plano along creek w/ 8,000 sq. ft. in full sun. No manmade water source. Suggestions?
view the full question and answer

Plants for Daisy Girl Scout native plants project
December 13, 2013 - Hello, I am a daisy Girl Scout leader and we are working on one of our Journeys and Native Plants Patch Program which requires our group of 5-6 year old girls to plant and care for a mini-garden. ...
view the full question and answer

Ash tree shedding seeds early in IL
June 23, 2011 - I've lived in my house 13 years now and have a large and old ash tree in my backyard near my patio. The seed pods are ten-fold this year and are dropping constantly. I've never experienced this co...
view the full question and answer

killing grass on 1 acre before planting Habiturf
March 04, 2012 - I have an acre of full sun lawn on a slight slope in Dallas - would the habiturf be appropriate & if so, how do I go about killing off the existing weeds/crab grass before installing? Removing 3 in o...
view the full question and answer

Savannah Holly True to Seed?
July 03, 2016 - I read your information on Savannah holly. Does this mean that none of the berries will produce a Savannah holly (Ilex x attenuata) but will either be Ilex cassine or Ilex opaca seeds? Thanks so much...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.