Fruit and Vegetables

Lentil - Culinary Lens


Lentil is an easily grown and rather resistant legume. It is therefore widespread throughout the world, especially in disadvantaged areas. The seeds are an important source of proteins of high nutritional value, vitamins and mineral salts. Exhausted plants can instead be used as animal feed.
It must also be said that in many areas it is used within the soil rotation cycles. It is, like many Fabaceae, capable of capturing and fixing a large amount of atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. Consequently it makes the ideal substrate to receive crops of greater value, such as some cereals (wheat, barley or corn).
It is a small annual herb similar to the pea, up to 45 cm tall, cultivated for the edible seed.
The stems start again from a short tap root. The leaves are alternate, pinnate with four to six pairs of oblong leaves, ending in a short tendril. The leaflets have swellings (pulvini) at the base, which allow the leaf to fold up in drought conditions. The fruit is a pod that contains the seeds inside.

Lentil characteristics

Lentil, lens culinaris, is a plant belonging to the Fabaceae family. It is an annual herb with limited development since the largest varieties reach a maximum height of 45 cm. It looks like a small bush, rather branched and mostly semi-prostrated.
The root system consists mainly of a central tap-root, which cannot reach great depths: it is never longer than 45 cm. Like all plants belonging to this family it is characterized by the presence of numerous tubercles where symbiotic bacteria live. These operate by fixing nitrogen in the air in the ground and making it available both for lentils and for crops subsequently added.
On the rather ramified stems, there are alternate leaves composed of pinnate leaflets, up to pairs of 8. The flowers, with the typical papilionaceous corolla, are about 5 mm long and are declined in white, pink or light blue. They are born from leaf axils, in groups of at most 4. From these develop small pods, first green, then yellow, containing at most two round and flattened seeds, of very variable color: light green or dark, beige, red, pink, orange and purple. The diameter can reach up to 8 mm. The varieties are divided into two categories: those with small seeds (less than 6 mm in diameter) and those with large seeds (more than 6 mm). In our country the first are the most appreciated, because they have a more delicate taste and cooking does not require a previous softening in water.


Sowing of lentils can be done in autumn or spring. In our country, we generally proceed between March and April and the first option is reserved for areas with very mild climates.
It begins in autumn-winter (after harvesting the cereal present in the area) by digging or plowing at least up to 40 cm deep. The soil will be left to rest during the cold season so that the frost and the thaw operate to deeply disrupt the clods.
It is sown in autumn at the SOUTH and at the end of winter in the north, planted in rows with 30-35 cm between the rows and 6-8 cm in the row; at a depth not exceeding two centimeters, in late winter in the south, in late spring in the north.
In the so-called dwarf species the distance of 60 cm between the rows and 6-7 cm on the row will be kept. It is sown on well developed and moist soil. Before sowing, it is best to put the seeds in water overnight.
In March the soil will be further refined and sowing will proceed.
This is done directly at home: furrows are traced from 15 to 45 cm apart (depending on the variety). The seeds will then be sprinkled, creating the postarelle with 5-6 seeds at a distance of about 30 cm from each other. We work at about 4 cm depth using the back of the rake. It is not necessary to irrigate. Germination takes place at rather low temperatures, even at only 5 ° C and is quite fast.
It may be useful to equip oneself with protection nets from birds, which often feed greedily on freshly planted seeds.

Climate and exposure

Lentils like temperate climates, possibly tending to cool. This is why it is grown mainly in the piedmont areas or on plateaus.
To get good growth and abundant production it is good to always place the plants in a sunny position, where they receive at least six hours of direct light a day.

Crop care

Repeated hoeing must be carried out to keep the ground airy and loose and light earthing up.
Watering: they are practiced after sowing to facilitate germination and are repeated in particular in the phase that goes from the flowering to the enlargement of the pods.


Temperate zones

Mountain areas
sowing Fabaceae, Lens culinaris March April
flowering March April May-July
collection May-July August September


The lentil grows best on mainly poor and dry soils. It is of fundamental importance that there is an excellent water drainage: radical rots and some cryptogamic diseases are in fact one of the few causes of failure.
Therefore extremely clayey or calcareous soils should be avoided. However, it does not like even those extremely fertile and rich in organic substance or high salinity. As far as pH is concerned, it is rather tolerant. The ideal soil can be from subacid to sub-alkaline.


It would be advisable to fertilize the previous crop. You can spread 2 quintals of very mature manure for a hundred square meters of vegetable garden, planting it deeply in time. Important may be a phosphopotassic contribution, based on wood ash in the dose of 5-10 Kg per 100 square meters.
As we have said, this plant does not need excessive amounts of nitrogen. However, it is good practice to provide a medium-textured terrain, where the particularities of soil improvement become more acute.
Usually the incorporation of organic soil improvers takes place at the time of preparation of the previous crop (a cereal). To speed up the initial growth (always a little slow) we can eventually spread at the moment of the plant from 10 to 20 kg per hectare of seasoned manure.
At that moment it is essential to add good quantities of fertilizer with a high phosphorus content (for example phosphorus dioxide). Potassium will also be integrated, but only if the soil is naturally deficient.


The lentil is a plant particularly resistant to drought and rarely in our country needs interventions under this point of life. We only distribute water if the lack of rain lasts a long time and the leaves begin to show signs of yellowing. The only time when it is good to intervene a little more frequently is during flowering, to avoid the loss of the crop. We wait, however, if the soil is completely dry.

Collection and storage

It takes place in June - July before the plant dries up. Lentils are harvested 4 to 5 months after sowing, from June to September. In Italy, processing takes place between August and September. The right time is when the pods are dry, but still completely closed. The plants are removed and left in the sun for a day. Afterwards they hang upside down in a cool, sheltered room and once the entire trunk appears dry, they start shaking and beating so that the grain falls to the ground (where we have spread a clean sheet for collection).
Lentils can be stored for a long time in an airtight barter, in a cool, dry place.


In Italy they are grown in Sicily, Puglia, Abruzzo and Lazio; in addition to the normal type there are the so-called Marzoline lentils and the red winter lentils

Fight against weeds

One of the most important obstacles is the uncontrolled growth of weeds. These frequently succeed in suffocating the culture in the first slow stages of its development. It is therefore essential to dedicate oneself assiduously to the hoeing of the foot, avoiding however to damage the superficial, rather delicate roots.
To limit this type of intervention it is also possible to carry out a false seeding cycle followed by the use of a non-residual herbicide on that area.


Especially for the varieties of greater development it is advised to use braces to prevent their creeping habit making collection difficult and favors cryptogams and weeds. You can create gratings with natural or synthetic canes. Alternatively, nets similar to those used for peas can be used.


Lentil is probably the oldest legume we know. It is in fact shown that it was already cultivated in the areas between Syria and Mesopotamia in 7000 BC about. Due to its high nutritional value it soon spread both as a cultivation and as a bargaining chip throughout the Mediterranean basin. In the Greek and Roman civilizations it was considered a suitable food only for the lower strata of the population, but its trade was very flourishing. In fact, there were innumerable ships that came from the Asian and African coasts.
The popularity continued to grow throughout the Middle Ages, only to go away after the discovery of America and the introduction of the more productive bean.
It is still today one of the most interesting crops in the world. The most important producers are India, Canada and Turkey. In Italy it is produced in some restricted areas in moderate quantities, but guaranteeing very high quality.

Diseases of lentils

Among the most common parasites are the anthracnose and the rust: cryptogamic diseases that are prevented by spraying copper sulphate.
Among the insects, the Tonchio, which is fought with carbon disulphide used in hermetically sealed environments, is harmful.
The snails and snails are also harmful, especially after the rains. They are eliminated manually or with traps and baits.
Aphids can be biologically eliminated by spraying macerations of suitable plants.

Sprouted lentils

Sprouted lentils are a very healthy and nutrient-rich food. We can prepare them personally.
First of all you need to rinse them carefully to free them from the dust of the work. Afterwards they will be placed in a jar with warm water closing it with a clean napkin and a rubber band.
We put everything in a warm place.
We change the water every day until the first radicle is checked: at this point let's spread them on paper that we will always keep moist. They will be ready in about three days.

Lentil: Use in the kitchen

The lentils sown and marketed in Italy are usually of medium-small size and do not need to be soaked before cooking.
Those of larger size may need to spend a night in the water instead. A spoonful of bicarbonate is a valid aid for the softening of the external integument and making some mineral salts (such as iron) more assimilable.
Cooking times vary greatly. It is very important, however, to cook them in plenty of water and salt them only at the end, to prevent them from being hard.
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