Scientific Name: Vicia species
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume or Pea or Bean family)


One tiny plant… so many functions!
Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa)

Common Species:

  • American/Purple Vetch (Vicia americana) – perennial; fair flavor (top photo)
  • Carolina Wood Vetch or Pale Vetch (Vicia caroliniana) – perennial
  • Tufted/Bird/Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca) – perennial; poor flavor; good forage crop used with cattle
  • Bitter Vetch or Burçak (Vicia ervilia) – annual; poor flavor; good forage crop used with sheep/cattle
  • Fava/Broad/Field Bean (Vicia faba) – annual; excellent flavor; very good short-lived groundcover
  • Common/Garden Vetch or Winter Tares (Vicia sativa) – annual; seeds have fair flavor; leaves/shoots/pods edible; good forage crop used with cattle/horses; very good groundcover
  • Wood Vetch (Vicia sylvatica) – perennial
  • Hairy/Fodder/Large Russian Vetch (Vicia villosa) – annual or perennial in warmer climates – Winter hardy; poor flavor; forage crop; popular Winter cover crop


Vicia is a genus of about 140 species of legumes commonly known as Vetch. These rambling, nitrogen-fixing vines are found around the world and used for food, animal forage, and green manures. They are pioneer plants helping to rehabilitate damaged lands, and their deep roots mine minerals which enrich and stabilize soils. They attract all sorts of beneficial insects and can be used as a groundcover. One annual species also happens to be one of my favorite beans: the Fava Bean! This is a wonderful plant to use on pastures, new swales, and in the initial phases of Forest Garden creation… truly a multi-purpose plant!


Native and widespread around the world, Vetches are naturally found on all continents but Australia (and Antarctica of course). Because they were introduced in Australia, the Vetches are now found across the globe. It is likely that Bitter Vetch (Vicia ervilia) was one of the first domesticated crops being grown in the Middle East (Near East) almost 10,000 years ago!  Over time, different species of Vetch have been used around the world by indigenous people groups as well as pioneers as primary or supplementary food sources. Most Vetch species today are used as fodder and forage for livestock, but a few have been selected for human consumption, especially the Broad Bean (Fava Bean).



  • American Vetch (Vicia americana), Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca), and Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa) have a taproot that may dive up to 40 inches (1 meter) deep. Other species may have taproots, but no reliable information can be found.
  • American (Vicia americana) has both a taproot and rhizomes and is drought-tolerant.
  • The Fava/Broad Bean (Vicia faba) can be used to make the popular Middle Eastern food, Falafel. Ground fava beans, chickpeas, or both are used to make the ball or patty which is then deep fried.
  • The Fava/Broad Bean (Vicia faba) can be inoculated with the rhodospirillacean bacterium Azospirillum brasilense and the glomeracean fungus Glomus clarum, and then the Fava Bean can also be grown in salty soils.