What are They?

Tree beans

Frijoles de Palo (Tree Beans)

Pigeon peas are beans that grow on a tree.  They’re called “frijoles de palo” in Central America, or in English, “tree beans”. Pigeon pea is the 4th most consumed bean in the world.   It’s a perennial woody shrub that can grow up to 3.5 meters and will produce “peas” for up to 5 years. The pigeon pea serves as good nutrition for humans as well as excellent feed for cattle, pigs and chickens.  The many other names it’s known as are: kardis, gandule bean, tropical green pea, kadios, Congo pea, gungo pea, gunga pea, fio-fio, mgbụmgbụ, no-eye pea, toor dal, arhar dal, togari bele and mzimbili mussa.

One cup of raw pigeon peas provides 170 calories, 9 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat and 9.5 grams of fiber.  When they’re cooked the sugar content goes up, with 4.6 grams, compared to 3.8 grams of sugar in raw green pigeon peas.  They also contain a wide array of B-complex vitamins that help your body turn fat, protein and carbohydrates into energy. Each cooked cup provides half the thiamine and one-fourth of the riboflavin and niacin you need each day. They also contain 36 percent of your daily requirement for folate and 6 percent for vitamin B-6.  One cup also supplies significant amounts of vitamin C and  gives you more than 100 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin K.

Survival Gardener Video on Pigeon Peas

Why Grow Pigeon Peas?

If you have a garden with a lot of greens and vegetables but not a lot of carbohydrates or proteins, grow pigeon peas.  They grow like a bush and make edible beans that can be dried and stored or eaten fresh.  It produces for years and doesn’t need much water due to their deep roots which help to pull soil nutrients up to the surface.  They also fix nitrogen in the soil and their leave and branches make excellent mulch.  Pigeon peas can also be planted in conjunction with climbing plants as a trellis and they make an excellent wind break if planted along a fence-line or in high density.

The pods, seeds and leaves all make for a nutritious animal food source. Our chickens can’t wait for the next crop.

Farmers in the tropics inter-plant them with corn, sweet potatoes and other crops as well.  This way, they have good mulch clipping on hand and in times of drought these strong plants still produce edibles.  They have a deep tap-root and can handle semi-dry conditions, but they produce more with regular irrigation.   In terms of a “survival garden”, one would be silly not to consider this crop.  Learn how to grow Pigeon Peas!

How To Grow Pigeon Peas

Sow the seed a couple of centimeters deep in the spring or wet season.  You can soak the seeds overnight to improve germination rates.  They tolerate a range of soil PH’s 4.5-8.4, so I wouldn’t be too concerned.  Plan on the plant growing 2-3 meters tall and 1-2 meters wide.  I suggest trying them out next to other nitrogen hungry plants such as corn or tomatoes.  They can also be quite useful planted on the other side of your chicken fence to give shade for your chooks.

Depending on the variety, they made produce as soon as 4 months or as late as 8 months.   They’ll continue to produce peas for up to 5 years.   You can cut them back but be aware that they will not regrow if cut down near ground level.

Here’s an interesting Video about a project using Pigeon Peas improve agricultural income and nutrition in Guatemala.

Sources and Links:

Pigeon Peas – A Sweet Summer Addition to the Edible Garden 

Pigeon Pea Growing Information

Soil to Supper – Growing and Using Pigeon Peas

Add Food Security With Pigeon Peas

Pigeon Pea ECHO Informational PDF 


Pigeon Pea Rice

Rice With Pigeon Pea and Coconut

Yellow Rice With Pigeon Peas