Purslane – A Hot Weather Green

You’ve probably seen it in your garden when the weather has been so dry that nothing else will grow.  You might even plant one of its cousins in your flower garden.

The plant in question is purslane (Portulaca oleracea).  The name oleracea means vegetable or herblike.  Purslane is a fleshy prostrate growing weed that can give you sustenance when the rest of your garden forsakes you.  There are no poisonous species that closely resemble it either.

The thick soft stems are round, smooth and give rise to small oblong thick green leaves.  These leaves are nearly but not quite opposite each other on the stems.  There is also no petiole, which normally connects the leaf blade to the main stem (sessile leaves).  When flowers form they are yellow and also edible.

It thrives under drought conditions in full sun, which is why it can be a problem for gardeners.  It is also why it has value.

Purslane in its young state is great mixed with other greens in a salad with a vinegar based dressing.  I think when raw it is better mixed.  The leaves and stems contain sticky mucilage that might be too pronounced alone.  When eaten with lettuce or spinach it is an asset, giving the salad extra body.

When consumed as a potherb it doesn’t cook down as much as other greens.  Purslane is mild tasting but filling.  Try stir-frying it with other vegetables like onions and peppers.

Probably its greatest culinary asset is its ability to add body to a soup.  It’s a great thickener, much like okra, and has far fewer calories than starch.

On the nutrition side, purslane contains linolenic acid, one of the essential omega-3 fatty acids.  These are commonly found in fish and nuts.

Research indicates consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Some studies link these chemicals to preventing the development of ADHD and autism in children.

Purslane is also high in vitamins A, C and some of the B vitamins.  It is also rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese.  Betacyanins and betaxanthins, both potent antioxidants, are also present as is a healthy amount of fiber.

If you collect it from your garden you have a pretty good idea what contaminants might be in it, so that’s not a problem.  However, if you gather some from the roadside you can’t be sure what chemicals might be there.  Some pesticides persist for long periods.

It’s interesting how some obscure plants which we call weeds can be very beneficial when we give them a chance.  I’m not advocating we all turn into subsistence gatherers and abandon traditional crops.  I only suggest we take advantage of the many wonders around us.

Learning new things about our surroundings can be fun and rewarding.  As with anything new though, always consume small amounts until you are sure your system agrees with it.  Some have aversions to traditional foods as well.  Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions.  Be a lifelong learner.

Healthy purslane plant

Healthy purslane plant

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School. (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us)

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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1 Response to Purslane – A Hot Weather Green

  1. awhitenhs12 says:

    Ive seen the Pursulane around my house. I didnt know you could add it to soup or possibly other food items. I also didnt know it was high in so many vitamins.

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