San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Home Gardening

Learn to grow and cook the low-maintenance pigeon pea

During the dry season in Costa Rica, when the vegetation turns brown and the soil hardens, it’s difficult to grow any crops. But there is one plant that provides a bountiful harvest at this time of the year. It’s often referred to as a pigeon pea or gandul, and the natives call it frijol de palo, which means the bean tree. This legume is low maintenance and can be very productive in a home garden.

The plant arrived to the New World via India and Africa. It has adapted well and become a staple food in many countries in the region. It is a good substitute for peas in the hotter regions of Costa Rica, and it requires little care once it is established.

Seeds are planted directly in the garden with moderate applications of organic compost. Keep the plants free of weeds and cultivated until they are established. Since they grow up to 2 meters tall, it’s best to plant them in borders of the garden where they will not shade other plants that require sun. This is also an excellent plant for soil rebuilding, since the roots drill the soil, add nitrogen and provide organic material (leaves).

Beginning in the dry season, these bushes produce a prolific amount of pea-like legumes that can be used in salads or dried as a cooked bean. Plants produce for 2 to 5 years, although the best harvest is the first year. Prune well after harvest and be sure to plant new seeds each year. Even though this legume is very popular in other countries, Ticos don’t seem to eat or grow much of it. For that reason, it’s often hard to find the dried beans in the market, which you can use for planting. We’d like to see more people growing this wonderful plant.

Here’s a recipe for preparing “frijol de palo” which we love to dine on at home:

A delicious dish involving frijol de palo.

Ed Bernhardt/The Tico Times


2 cups of the pigeon pea

2 large onions

4 cloves of garlic

2 sweet chili peppers

1-2 stalks of celery

2 cups of blended tomatoes

Curry and cayenne pepper to taste

2-4 tablespoons of olive oil or coconut oil


Dice and sauté the vegetables with the oil and seasoning in a large pot. Then add the beans and 6 cups of water. Boil until the beans are soft. Serves 4-6 people.

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