Pesky weed? Edible landscaping plant? Medicinal herb? Gourmet greens? Purslane is all of the above.Purslane (Portulaca olearacea
–also called “pigweed”) is a determined and adaptive plant. According to a Whatcom County Noxious Weed Control Board* handout, a single plant can produce 240,000 seeds which can remain viable in the soil for up to 40 years. A small part of the plant can sprout into a whole new plant. If you pull it up, the plant can still go on to produce seeds, and if it’s anywhere near dirt it will root and grow again. It’s even a succulent (meaning it stores water), so can withstand a certain amount of drought conditions. (That means it’s also not an herb or vegetable.) Purslane takes hardiness to a whole new level.
According to Landscaping About.com ( landscaping.about.com ): “Purslane’s stem is round and smooth, and it trails along the ground like a small vine. Young plants have a green stem, but, with maturity, stems take on reddish tints. Purslane has small, oblong, green leaves, which form clusters. The leaves resemble small wedges and, like the stem, are juicy.” It’s also described by others as resembling a tiny jade plant.I had never tasted purslane so was excited to find bundles for sale at the Alm Hill Gardens booth at the Bellingham Farmers Market recently. The flavor was surprising and unique. Though food writers often describe purslane as interchangeable with green ingredients such as spinach, arugula, and chard, I didn’t think purslane had the bitterness typical of those other greens. In fact, the flavor is so unique that I have difficulty describing it. Spicy? Peppery? Not quite. Earthy? Sweet? Maybe a little. Some call it “citrusy.” Words fail me–you’ll just have to try it yourself. However it is described, though, purslane is different, delightful, and delicious!Purslane grows around the world (big surprise for such a persistent and pervasive little organism) and has become a common ingredient in some regional cuisines. In Greece and Turkey, for example, purslane has been frequently used since ancient times raw in salads with cucumers, tomatoes, and goat cheese. Russians preserve it for use as a winter green. French serve it with fish. “Verdolaga,” as it is called in Mexico, is used in omelets, soups, as a vegetable side dish, and as a filling in tortilla wraps.
Purslane was said to be Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite food, and Henry David Thoreau described boiled purslane as a “satisfactory dinner.”
Medicinal uses of purslane go back as far as culinary uses. In Europe, purslane has been considered a useful remedy for arthritis and other kinds of inflammation. Chinese herbalists used it similarly, but also found it helpful for improving respiratory and circulatory functioning. Purslane is also reported to reduce depression. Along with lettuce, amaranth greens, lamb’s quarters greens, and watercress, it is considered by some to be one of the five richest edible plants for antidepressant effects. Drinking tea made from the leaves is believed to bring down fever.
Nutritionally, purslane is surprisingly high in alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), one of the most valued antioxidant Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet says purslane is the richest known plant source of ALA. It even surpasses the levels in some fish oils. That makes it a good antioxidant option for vegetarians. It is rich in vitamins A, C, E, and some B-complex. It has one of the highest levels of potassium compared to other vegetables.