Cowpea, southern pea or field pea (English), 眉豆 (méi dòu, Mandarin), imbumba (Zulu), pois à vache (French), dinawa (Setswana)
Black-eye peas are native to northern Africa, and they have been consumed throughout Africa, India and the Mediterranean for thousands of years. The peas were brought to the Americas in the 18th century during European colonization and the enslavement of African people.
They were introduced to Florida by enslaved Africans during the colonial period. They were grown to feed people as well as livestock. The peas were an important food source during the Civil War for soldiers and civilians in the South because they were a good source of protein that is inexpensive to produce. They remained a staple food after the war, particularly among the rural poor, and they were served in a variety of dishes such as ‘Hoppin’ John’ and usually alongside cornbread.
Plant bush-type black-eyed peas directly into the garden after the last frost (April-September). Seeds are typically spaced two to three inches apart and one inch deep. Some fertilizer may be necessary, but the peas do well in poorer, sandy soils. Once established, the plants are drought-tolerant but may benefit from mulching. Avoid over-watering the plants, which may promote fungal growth on the leaves. Harvest months are July-November. Peas may be dried on the bush for seed-saving or culinary storage purposes. Peas prefer full sun (Iannotti). In addition to nitrogen-fixing green manure, cowpea plants can be used for livestock forage, either green or dried for future use (“Cow Peas”). To plan, a heritage garden, download the ‘Planning a Florida Heritage Garden (PDF).’