Lathyrus Farming, Cultivation Practices (Khesari Dal)

Introduction to Lathyrus Farming:

Today let us talk about Lathyrus farming or Khesari Dal farming.

Lathyrus sativus also called grass pea, chickling pea, chickling vetch, Indian pea, white pea, and white vetch is a legume commonly grown for human consumption and livestock feed in Asia and East Africa. Lathyrus sativus is a plant. People used it as medicine. It is a particularly very important crop in areas that are prone to drought and famine and is thought of as an ‘insurance, crop’ as it produces reliable yields when all other crops fail. The seeds contain a neurotoxin that causes a neurodegenerative infection when the seeds are consumed as a primary protein source for a prolonged period.

Grass pea or Lathyrus sativus or Khesai Dal grown both as food and fodder is one of the preferred legume crops in poor and arid areas for adaptation under changing climate because of its intrinsic tolerance to drought, water-logging, and salinity. It is free from any serious infestation of insect pests and diseases. Further, like all pulse crops, grass pea enhances farming systems by fixing Nitrogen from the atmosphere and dropping pest outbreaks through intercropping with other food crops. Lathyrus sativus, therefore, plays an important role as a subsistence crop for resource-poor farmers in many South Asian and Sub-Saharan African countries.

Lathyrus sativus contains up to 34% protein and other essential micronutrients and is often the only alternative to starvation when other crops fail. However, when eaten as a large part of the diet over a lengthy period (which is often the case during a famine) it can cause permanent paralysis in adults and brain damage in children. The seeds of traditional Lathyrus sativus varieties contain much higher levels of plant toxins than the safe limit.

Lathyrus Sativus Crop.
Lathyrus Sativus Crop.

Synonyms/Other names:

Grass pea, Chickling Pea, Khesari, Teora, Blue sweet pea, and Kasari (Bengali).

Nutritive value of Lathyrus:

  • Protein – 31.9%
  • Fat – 0.9%
  • Carbohydrate – 53.9%
  • Ash – 3.2%.

Origin of Lathyrus:

Lathyrus sativus or Grass pea is found in Eurasia, North America, temperate South America, and East Africa (Smartt, 1990). The origin of Lathyrus is unknown; however, its presumed center of origin is Southwest and Central Asia (Smartt, 1990).

Best Climate for Lathyrus farming

Being a winter season crop it prefers a temperate climate with excellent adoption under climatic extremities. Generally, the crop requires 15°C to 25 °C temperatures during sowing to harvesting of this crop.

Water Management in Lathyrus farming

The crop is developed as a rainfed crop on residual moisture. However, under high moisture stresses one irrigation at 60 to 70 days after sowing may be remunerated in terms of production.

Weed Management in Lathyrus farming:

For normal sown crops one hand-weeding at 30 to 35 days after sowing (if soil conditions permit). Weeds can also be managed efficiently by a spray of fluchloralin (Basalin) 45 EC @ 0.75-1 kg a.i. /ha in 750 to 1000 liters of water as pre-plant incorporation.

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Sowing Time or Season for Lathyrus farming:

This crop is sown on residual soil moisture after harvesting of Kharif from last October to early November as a pure crop. In utera cropping last week of September or 1st week of October.

Uses of Lathyrus:

The seeds are boiled and addicted as a pulse, can be used in dahl preparation and bread making. They are prepared into paste balls, put in curries, or boiled and eaten like a pulse. “Lathyrus sativus or Grass pea seeds are used in India, Ethiopia, and other developing countries as part of the diet of the poor in times of famine. It can be used in building local beverages. Leaves can be used as a pot-herb and can be addicted as a vegetable after boiling. Seeds are dehusked and dehydrated before use” (Kay, 1979). “Plants are treasured for green manure but have weedy tendencies. It is mixed with oil cake and salts, seeds are used as a nutritive feed for poultry and livestock. Primarily Lathyrus is cultivated as cold weather, forage crop” (Duke, 1981).

Field Cultivation of Khesari Dal:

Lathyrus sativus is extensively cultivated in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and Lebanon in Middle East, France and Spain in Europe, and Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, and Morocco in Africa (Campbell et al., 1994). “Lathyrus sativus is propagated by seed. Some say inoculation is essential before sowing, particularly in virgin soil; others declare it appears unnecessary. In some temperate regions, Lathyrus is sown after rye, or on fallow land. Seeding rates vary from 45 to 90 kg per hectare depending on the method of cultivation, whether in the pure stand or intercropped, the purpose of cropping (food or feed), and seed size. Seeds may be sown broadcast or in furrows about three cm apart in a well-prepared field. The crop comes up as a thick mass over the entire surface and under ideal environmental conditions can smother out weeds. Except for lime on acid soils, other nutrients are hardly ever needed. Phosphorus application is recommended in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh; the Lathyrus crop may be sown as pure or in a mixed stand often into a standing rice crop one to 2 weeks before the rice is ready to harvest. Lathyrus sativus is reported to add 67 kg per hectare of nitrogen to the soil from symbiosis with Rhizobium sp.” (Kay, 1979; Duke, 1981; Campbell et al., 1994).

Lathyrus grows best where the average temperature is 10 to 25 °C and the average rainfall is 400–650 mm (16–26 in) per year. Like other legumes, it improves the nitrogen substance of the soil. The crop can survive drought or floods but grows in moist soils. It tolerates a variety of soil types from light sandy through loamy to heavy clay, and acid, neutral, or alkaline soils. It does not tolerate shade.

Harvesting in Lathyrus farming:

Seeds of Lathyrus sativus ripen in 4 to 6 months and are harvested as soon as the leaves begin to turn yellow and when the pods are not fully ripe as fully ripe pods dehisce & scatter the seeds (Kay, 1979). It is harvested with a sickle or uprooted, left to dry for a very few days in heaps, and then threshed and winnowed. “The Lathyrus crop can be cut and fed green, or the standing crop may be pastured; it is not fit for silage but can be cured into hay under mild climatic conditions. When fed alone, fresh little plants are reported to be harmful to horses; however, cattle, rabbits, and sheep can consume large amounts without ill effects”.

The economic importance of Lathyrus farming in India:

Lathyrus farming or Grass pea is the third most important cool-season pulse crop of India, occupying an area of 0.58 million ha with an annual production of 0.43 million tonnes. It is cultivated mainly in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Chhattisgarh. The majority of this acreage (~ 70%) is shared by Chhattisgarh and the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, which is a rice-rising region where supplemental irrigation is available only for rice. Consequently, water is not accessible for subsequent winter crops, making grass pea the only alternative for a crop following rice.

Lathyrus or Grass pea effectively withstand unfavorable conditions, including excessive moisture at sowing, which is often followed by moisture stress at advanced growth stages. In fact, Lathyrus is preferred for cultivation in such areas owing to its hardy nature coupled with its marginal costs of cultivation. In the early 1990s, the socioeconomic impact of Lathyrus consumption was assessed in a random sample of a hundred farmers from Raipur, Bilaspur, and Bastar. This study revealed that almost 60 percent of the rice growers included grass pea in their cropping system. Most of the farmers experienced subsistence agriculture with smaller landholdings (of below 5 ha). However, its consumption among non-farmers did not exceed 3 percent of total food intake. Among pulses, farmers had a preference for chickpea, which accounted for over 35 percent of total pulse expenses incurred, followed by other pulse crops, including pigeon pea (25.3%), black gram (17.5%), and grass pea (11.2%). The most general use of grass pea was to prepare dal, and nearly 25 percent of consumers adopted conventional measures to detoxify grass pea grains before consumption. Considerable awareness was found among the rural group about the toxic effects of grass pea consumption.

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Side Effects & Safety:

Lathyrus or Grass pea is likely unsafe when taken by mouth. It is poisonous to nerves. It can cause muscle rigidity, muscle spasms, paralysis of the leg muscles, weak heartbeat, decreased breathing, seizures, and death.

Lathyrus or Grass pea poisoning and its complications are rare in western countries, yet they have been documented for more than a century in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Despite the effort to ban the sale of Lathyrus sativus in several states of India, distribution continues. To deactivate the poison, a number of methods have been tried. Normally they involve soaking the seeds in water, followed by steaming or sun drying. Roasting the seeds at very high temperatures for twenty minutes also helps to destroy the poison. However, these methods are only 80 to 85% effective.


The appropriate dose of Lathyrus sativus depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to decide an appropriate range of doses for Lathyrus sativus. Keep in mind that natural products are not always essentially safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

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