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Scientific Name(s): Lathyrus cicero, Lathyrus odoratus, Lathyrus sativus
Common Name(s): Caley pea, Chickling vetch, Everlasting pea, Flat-podded vetch, Grass pea, Red pea, Singletary pea, Spanish vetchling, Sweet pea, White pea, Wild pea

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 2, 2023.

Clinical Overview


Despite its known toxicity, Lathryus has been cultivated for animal and human consumption. The development of low-toxin subspecies has renewed interest in the legume as a source of animal feed protein. No animal or clinical data are available regarding the use of Lathyrus for any clinical condition. Limited in vitro studies have explored the antioxidant and antifungal properties of isolated chemical constituents of Lathyrus.


Clinical evidence is lacking to support specific dosage recommendations for Lathryus.


Contraindications have not been identified; however, use is not recommended.


Avoid use. Adverse effects have been reported.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Information regarding adverse reactions with the use of Lathyrus is limited.


Some species are neurotoxic.

Scientific Family

  • Fabaceae (pea)
  • Leguminosae (bean)


Lathyrus is a widespread genus, with more than 160 species growing worldwide (both annual and perennial) and approximately 60 species identified in the United States. The genus includes the popular garden plant L. odoratus (sweet pea), grown for its scent and wide array of colors.(Barceloux 2009, USDA 2015) The legume L. sativus (grass or white pea) is cultivated for animal and human consumption, especially by subsistence farmers in areas of low rainfall.(Yan 2006) The vine grows up to 1 m in length, has an extensive root system, and bears seeds (ie, the peas) that are eaten or dried and used as a powder/flour.(Barceloux 2009) The edible chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is not a member of the Lathyrus genus, nor is the garden pea (Pisum spp.).(USDA 2015)


Data from fossils indicate that Lathyrus has been cultivated since the Neolithic Age (approximately 10,200 BC to between 4,500 and 2,000 BC). The toxic effects of Lathyrus were described as early as 370 BC by Hippocrates. History records episodes of neurolathyrism, a neurological disease of humans and domestic animals caused by eating certain legumes of the genus Lathyrus, particularly during droughts or wars when consumption of the hardy pea increased.(Barceloux 2009, Fikre 2011, Mishra 2014) The plant is native to the Mediterranean region and has been cultivated in North America since the 1700s.(Barceloux 2009, Mikić 2011)

The development of low-toxin subspecies has renewed interest in the legume as a source of animal feed protein.(Yan 2006)


L. sativus pea consists primarily of protein high in lysine but deficient in methionine, cysteine, and tryptophan; the plant is also low in polyunsaturated fatty acids and has a high starch content.(Sarmento 2015, Yan 2006) A variety of compounds with potential neurotoxic effects have been identified; see Toxicology.

Histaminase, which has antioxidant properties, has been identified in L. sativus,(8) and a polygalacturonase-inhibiting protein has also been described.(Tamburino 2012) Flavonoids and triterpenoid saponins have been investigated in the L. sativus pea.(Khan 2011, Sarmento 2015) Other compounds isolated from seeds of Lathyrus spp. include lectins, tannins, phytates, divicine, amylase inhibitors, and oligosaccharides.(Hanbury 2000, Yan 2006)

Uses and Pharmacology

No animal or clinical data are available regarding the use of Lathyrus for any clinical condition.

Limited in vitro studies have explored the antioxidant(Alirezaei 2014, Polatoğlu 2015, Sarmento 2015, Singh 2013) and antifungal(Khan 2011, Tamburino 2012) properties of isolated chemical constituents of Lathyrus.


Clinical evidence is lacking to support specific dosage recommendations for Lathryus.

Pregnancy / Lactation

Avoid use. Adverse effects have been reported; see Toxicology.(Barceloux 2009, Wagstaff 2008)


None well documented. Studies in guinea pigs suggest that the toxic effects of Lathyrus spp. may be potentiated by vitamin C deficiency(Amba 2002) and by coadministration of manganese.(Enneking 2011, Kumar 2003, Mishra 2009)

Adverse Reactions

Information is limited. Rhinitis and asthma related to occupational exposure to L. sativus flour have been reported.(Antón Gironés 2005)


The seeds and foliage of Lathyrus contain toxic chemicals, primarily the beta isomer of 3-N-oxalyl-L-2,3-diaminopropanoic acid (ODAP), but also alpha-amino-gamma-(isoxazolin-5-on-2-yl)-butyric acid and beta-aminopropionitrile.(Barceloux 2009) Animal studies indicate that the alpha isomer of ODAP is relatively nontoxic, and that the water-soluble beta isomer can be converted to the less toxic alpha isomer by boiling in water and draining.(Barceloux 2009, Onar 2014) Methods of cultivation suggest that concentrations of the toxic beta ODAP are affected by growth conditions, varying from 0.1% to 2.5%.(Fikre 2011, Woldeamanuel 2012)

Lathyrism is a neurologic disorder (neurolathyrism) caused by chronic Lathyrus intoxication rather than acute toxicity; its effects can be reversed in the early stages by cessation of seed consumption.(Barceloux 2009, Enneking 2011) Symptoms include spasticity of the lower extremities and an ataxic gait resulting from increased leg muscle tone with muscle weakness. Other symptoms may include GI distress, urinary frequency, and sexual dysfunction.(Barceloux 2009) The condition is less common in well-nourished adults and postmenopausal women.(Barceloux 2009, Enneking 2011, Onar 2014) Studies in rodents and other animals suggest that some species (such as guinea pigs) are more susceptible to these toxic effects.(Amba 2002, Enneking 2011) The mechanism of action continues to be investigated; current evidence suggests that CNS changes due to neurolathyrism include subarachnoid, pial, and subpial hemorrhage as well as demyelination in the cerebellum.(Enneking 2011, Khandare 2014)

Osteolathyrism in humans, evidenced by skeletal deformities and aortic rupture, may be a manifestation of the sequelae of chronic neurolathyrism.(Barceloux 2009)

Index Terms

  • L. odoratus
  • L. sativus
  • Grass Pea
  • Sweet Pea
  • White Pea



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