Over at another place, I’ve been looking into the botanical confusion surrounding that essential of Roman cooking, mentuccia, which is not pennyroyal. And lest people are tempted to say, as they have before, “Get a life,” here’s another splendid example of the perils of common names. And these are in the same language.
Luigi noticed this strange website which is both touting the benefits of and seeking supplies of a plant it calls the heath pea. Why? Well, there are records of Scottish highlanders suppressing their appetites during hard times1 by eating the heath pea’s tubers. The heath pea site helpfully provides loads of pictures and other information to help people identify the correct species. But here’s the thing. There are at least two plants that occasionally go by the name heath pea: Vicia ervillea and Lathyrus linifolius. Both are also sometimes called bitter vetch. And I certainly wouldn’t have known the difference had it not been for a blog post by one ferrebeekeeper, ‘fessing up to having got the two mightily confused.
Vicia ervillia is one of the founder crops, first domesticated in the Middle East all those years ago, and still cultivated there. But Lathyrus linifolia is the one the Scots should be looking for.
Doubly confusing, it seems that the Vicia causes lathyrism and the Lathyrus doesn’t. As it happens, we have an expert on Lathyrus and Vicia among our regular readers, and I don’t doubt that he’ll be along in just a second to sort things out properly.