|A chubby stand of purslane|
These plants may look like weeds, but they have benefits to offer. For instance, alpine strawberries might be puny and taste somewhat sour, but they can help whiten teeth. Dandelion may be invasive, but it makes a therapeutic tea, a tasty jelly and a refreshing wine. Even if you don't have a green thumb, your landscape can still supply plenty of useful plants.
Stick with me a minute while I discuss a personal favorite of mine: Purslane isn't a superstar in the garden by any stretch. It's usually considered a weed; it doesn't have beautiful foliage and only produces modest yellow flowers. There is something reassuring about watching for it every spring, though. It's like an old friend who doesn't care if your laundry is still hanging on the line and you're wearing that free but comfortable tee shirt you got the last time you gave blood at the Red Cross Needle-A-Thon.
Every year, purslane pushes up through inhospitable ground and into unwelcoming early spring skies that would make many other herbs give up the fight. Still, it manages to make that piece of hard packed soil its own. I like that. Always have. Even better, purslane is nutritious and kinda tasty.
|Common purslane's half-inch yellow flowers|
What Is Purslane
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), a humble creeper with a centralized taproot, is a great example of a no-fuss annual that deserves more respect. You've probably been yanking it out of your lawn or flowerbeds for years without knowing what a treasure it can be in the right hands.
If you keep houseplants, it looks like a poor man's, tiny jade plant with a horizontal habit. Like jade plant, it's a succulent with fleshy, oval leaves. Common purslane also boasts reddish stems that make it easy to identify, even when it's a bitty seedling. If you're watching for it in late winter or early, early spring, it looks perky when everything else in the garden but the crocus plants are still hunkered down and shivering (metaphorically speaking). That little bit of green can be more warming that a mug of hot chocolate on a cold, gloomy day.
Where Does it Come From and How Do You Use It?
Purslane isn't native to the U.S., but it has gone native here. It can grow in almost any soil, and even small, discarded pieces can reroot easily. Purslane sets seed quickly and reproduces very effectively (note the VERY). Along with dandelion, purslane could be the poster child for invasive, peskiness in locations where it isn't assiduously monitored and contained. This ought to put it into perspective: One purslane specimen can produce up to 50,000 seeds.
Botanists can trace the origins of purslane to India -- or possibly Africa. Common purslane is actually a popular vegetable in many parts of the world. It's used in stir fry, salads and can be added to veggie medleys the way you would add leafy greens like spinach. Folks think it tastes a bit like spinach, or at least a cross between spinach and watercress. You can find plenty of recipes that add a handful of purslane to traditional potato salad. It's also a welcome ingredient in Greek salad. It can be served raw, steamed, stir fried or pickled. What parts do people eat? That would usually be the tender leaves and stems.
The modest purslane growing in backyard gardens across the U.S. isn't the only representative of the purslane family. There are cultivated culinary varieties that tend to have a more refined flavor (somewhat less sour), and a more upright growth habit. There are also ornamental purslane cultivars that remind me a little of begonias. Nearly 500 varieties of purslane have been identified to date.
Is Purslane Good for You?
*Purslane doesn't have the aesthetic appeal of, say, arugula in a dinner salad, but it does have some pretty impressive things to recommend it just the same:
- Purslane has one of the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) of any plant tested so far.
- It contains high concentrations of vitamins C and E.
- It's a good source of potassium and magnesium.
- It contains high levels of the heart healthy antioxidant beta-carotene.
- With very a little encouragement, you'll have a ready supply of purslane in the garden most of the year.
|Decorative Purslane, Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora)|
Even though you won't have trouble cultivating it regardless of the condition of your garden, in a perfect world purslane prefers rich soil that drains well. It also likes a sunny exposure and a regular watering schedule. Note: This little plant really begins to take off as the soil temperatures soar in late spring and early summer.
A Weed by Any Other Name Would Be -- In Your Vegetable Drawer
The word purslane (or purslain) comes to us from the Latin, and was mentioned in “Naturalis Historia" (or Natural History) written by the botanist Pliny the Elder in around 79 A.D. I goes by other picturesque names, too, including:
- Glistritha (from the Greek)
- Little hogweed
- Moss Rose
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Insect bites
- Low sex drive
- Urinary tract infection
I like to keep a little stand of purslane in my vegetable patch. If it starts running riot, which it usually does, I don't worry too much. It comes up easily for a tap root plant and doesn't seem to steal much nutrition earmarked for more demanding vegetables and herbs. If it sets loads of seeds, I can deal with it. Better purslane than bindweed or stinging nettle. I believe in counting my blessings.
*Special note: Purslane has an impressive nutritional pedigree, but it also contains high oxalate levels. If you have kidney problems, avoid adding purslane to your diet before discussing your plans with a medical professional. You may also want to check the latest research by visiting MedLine Plus (a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), WebMd or any of a number of other medical reference sites on the internet.
Mason, Sandra. "Purslane - Weed It or Eat It?" University of Illinois Exension. http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/homeowners/030726.html
Oeydomenge, G. Y. P"Oxalate content of raw and cooked purslane." WFL Publisher Science and Technology. 2006. http://world-food.net/oxalate-content-of-raw-and-cooked-purslane/
Prairieland Supported Community Agriculture. "Produce Recipes: Purslane. http://www.prairielandcsa.org/recipes/purslane.html
Robinson, Frances. "Power-Packed Purslane." Mother Earth News. 2005 http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/power-packed-purslane-zmaz05amzsel.aspx#ixzz33aMl1x88
Simopoulos, A.P., Norman H.A., Gillaspy J.E., Duke J.A. "Common purslane: a source of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants." National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1354675
University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources. "Common Purslane." 2007. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7461.html
Photo 1 - By John Comeau (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APurslane_closeup.JPG http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/af/Purslane_closeup.JPG (Established plant)
Photo 2 - By Jason Hollinger (Common Purslane Uploaded by Amada44) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACommon_Purslane_(1667066658).jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Common_Purslane_%281667066658%29.jpg (Flowers)
Photo 3 - By 6th Happiness (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A6H-diGangi-Purslane-Seed-Pods.jpg By 6th Happiness (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (Seeds)
Photo 4 - "Portulaca in Kadavoor" © 2010 Jeevan Jose, Kerala, India is used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c2/Portulaca_in_Kadavoor.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APortulaca_in_Kadavoor.jpg (Decorative moss rose Portulaca grandiflora)