If you grow peas, it is entirely worthwhile to harvest both their pods and their delicious, delicate greens. The shoots, which are the tender tips of the vines, including the leaves, stems, flower blossoms, and tendrils, make the most fantastic and unexpected salad greens.
They taste like peas, but with a wonderful grassy, green flavor that is all their own. I grow peas in containers and harvest them exclusively for the shoots (really, they are that good), but you can certainly harvest shoots from plants that you are growing for pods as well.
To harvest shoots, start at the top of a pea vine. Gently grab it by its tip and follow the stem downwards, stopping just above the second leaf down. Now take a close peek at that leaf. Right at the point where it joins the main stem you will see a teensy tiny chartreuse green nubbin. Pinch right above it. (See pictures, below.)
That little nubbin is a pea shoot that is just waiting to happen. When you pinch the growth above it off, that sends a signal to the plant to make the little nub grow into a new shoot! (New growth, pictured below.)
I think the shoots of sugar snap peas taste the sweetest, but you can eat the shoots of any edible pea variety. (Note: the shoots of sweet pea flowers are not edible.)
If you want to grow peas for their pods and shoots, start by sowing peas close together—just one inch apart and deep. Once the pea seedlings pop out of the ground and grow about 4 to 6 inches tall, go through and thin out every other plant by pinching them off right at the soil line. Voila! This is your first harvest of pea shoots. Leave the remaining plants to grow. When they get about knee high, go through and pinch off the tips. Then, let them grow and harvest the pods. When your pea plants begin to yellow, go through and pinch off all the tips before you pull them out and compost them.
To grow peas exclusively for their shoots, plant them in a container that is at least 12 inches deep (see picture, below). Sow the seeds 1 inch apart in all directions and 1 inch deep. When they reach about 8 inches tall, pinch them back. The shoots will soon re-grow and you can pinch them back again.
Willi Galloway is the author of Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, and she writes about organic vegetable gardening and seasonal cooking on her blog, DigginFood.