An unusual plant which produces attractive red flowers followed by angular pods. Pods should be harvested when 4-6cm in length.
Cultivated for its edible young seedpods and also as an ornamental plant.
This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby. When removing plant remains at the end of the growing season, it is best to only remove the aerial parts of the plant, leaving the roots in the ground to decay and release their nitrogen.
Succeeds in an ordinary garden soil, preferring a rich light well-drained soil in a sunny position.
Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in warm water and then sow in situ in the spring. The seed usually germinates in 2 - 4 weeks at 15°c. If seed is in short supply, it can be sown in pots in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in late spring or early summer.
Young seedpods - raw or cooked. Added to salads, cooked as a vegetable or added to soups, stews etc. The taste is said to resemble asparagus. Only the very young pods, when less than 25mm long, should be used, since the older pods quickly turn fibrous. Considered by many to be a gourmet food, though it is not a very high yielding crop.
The roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute.