Permaculture Plants: Hog Peanut
Scientific Name: Amphicarpaea bracteata
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume or Bean or Pea family)
This North American native plant is one of the rare shade-tolerant nitrogen-fixers. It can be used as a groundcover, has two types of edible seeds, and has edible roots. The Hog Peanut fills a niche in the Forest Garden and is likely going to be a very popular plant in the future.
Native to central and eastern North America, the Hog Peanut has had almost no development. It was a minor food source for Native Americans, and it is now being used more as people begin to understand its usefulness.
- Hog Peanut is unique in that it has two types of flowers. One is an open flower that allows for cross-pollination; these are born on the top of the plant and produce 1-4 seeds each. The other is a closed flower that will only self-pollinate; it grows very low on the plant and produces a pod that buries itself underground and makes a single seed which wild pigs like to eat… hence the common name.
- The genus Amphicarpeae is Greek for “two-seeded”, referring to the two seed types discussed above.
- Hog Peanut has delicate white to pink/purple flowers.
- While many Native American tribes utilized the Hog Peanut as a minor food source, it was the Pawnee who had the most unique harvesting method. They let the rats do it! Then
- Nitrogen Fixer – this plant creates its own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms (bacteria) in its roots. It typically produces an excess of nitrogen that can be used by neighboring plants. This is a leguminous plant; Cowpea inoculation group.
- General insect (especially bees) nectar plan
- Shelter plant for beneficial insects, especially parasatic wasps.
- Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant.
- Edible Seeds – About one-quater to 0.15-0.25 inch diameter (4-6 mm). Pods containing seed develop from the flowers on the upper parts of the plant. Need to be cooked.
- Edible Peanuts– These “peanuts” are actually seeds that develop from flower pods growing just above the soil surface (see Trivia above). They are larger than the above ground seeds, about 0.60 inch diameter (15 mm). If young and tender enough, these seeds may be eaten raw. If older, then they need to be cooked like any other bean.
- Edible Roots – From extensive literature reviews, it appears that some Hog Peanuts can produce medium-sized taproots which are edible. This appears to be the exception than the rule.
Yield: No reliable information could be found for a single plant, but typically yields are not high.
Harvesting: Autumn for above-ground seeds. Autumn-Winter for below-ground seeds or “peanuts” – these “peanuts” are not large and can look like a small clod of dirt. This is the pod, that when opened, reveals a pretty, speckled seed. If there is a dense planting, a handful can be collected within a few minutes. Roots, if large enough to be worthwhile, would likely be harvested in Autumn-Winter.
Storage: Use fresh or dry well and store like any dried bean.
USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-9
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information could be found.
Chill Requirement: None – this is an annual
Plant Type: Annual running vine
Leaf Type: Deciduous (annual)
Forest Garden Use: Climbing Layer, Groundcover Layer, Underground Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Minimal development has been done on this species
Flowering: Summer – Autumn
This is an annual plant – lives just one year. However, it reseeds so easily, it can almost be treated like an herbaceous perennial.
Size: 1-5 feet (30-150 cm) tall and wide
Roots: Fibrous, but some may form a taproot
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast
Light: Prefers light shade to full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Medium-moisture soils.
Special Considerations for Growing:
- Grow this under plants that are at least 3 feet tall so the Hog Peanut doesn’t climb and overgrow it.
- Hog Peanut gets going a bit later in the Spring to early Summer, so early season Spring ephemerals (e.g. Ramps) will grow well with it.
From seed. Scarification recommended – pre-soak for 12 hrs in warm water is typically sufficient. Sow in place in the Spring.