The cowpea belongs to the bean family; but it is the "field pea" of the Southern States. There are several varieties—the "red" and "black" varieties, the round "lady" peas, the large "black-eye" and "purple-eye," and the variously mottled and speckled "whippoorwill" peas, besides many others. There are both trailing and bush varieties. The plant bears a leaf with three leaflets and long pods growing in pairs on a long stem. The cowpea has been grown for at least one hundred and fifty years in our Southern States, the seed having been brought from India or China. It is grown both as a forage plant and for human food, but mainly as a fertilizer for the soil (green manure). Considerable quantities of the cowpea are consumed during the season, being gathered when the pods begin to change color and before they become dry. For winter use the dry peas are cooked like other dried beans and have a very agreeable flavor.
The cowpea requires a longer season than the kidney bean and will seldom, if ever, mature in the climate of New England. But as a dry bean it might well be introduced into our Northern markets on account of its distinctive and agreeable flavor.