North Americans' view of purslane (Portulaca olearacea) is starting to change. For years, this Eurasian plant was considered a weed, something that the property owner needed to get rid of. But a growing number of people now think that purslane represents edible landscaping at its best: It is free, there is no work involved in growing it, it boasts a variety of culinary uses, and it is even highly nutritious. The only thing keeping it from its rightful place as a respected herb is an outdated logic that says, "This plant is a weed; therefore, it must be eradicated from my landscape."
When you taste this "weed" and familiarize yourself with the research concerning its nutritional benefits, you might re-think that logic. Instead of fighting it as a weed, you may begin to find it more logical to treat it as an edible herb. Nor is there anything truly new in holding this positive view of purslane, since, in the Old World, it was intentionally grown in gardens for years. That is why settlers brought it over with them to the New World.
If you strive for a landscape with an immaculate lawn, it will still be understandable if you pull up all the purslane growing on it. That is the price you have to pay for perfection. But just do not throw it away! Eat it, instead. And if your purslane is growing on the edge of a garden, say, you might even consider pinching it instead of pulling it. That way, all summer you can enjoy healthful eating with this spicy succulent.
Health Benefits From Eating Purslane
Purslane herb has turned some heads at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, no less. They are touting purslane as a source of nutrition for a healthier diet.
Purslane contains alpha-linolenic acid, one of the highly sought-after Omega-3 fatty acids. There is no sense in paying money for fish oil when you can grow your own Omega-3 fatty acids as part of your edible landscaping (especially when it takes little effort to grow purslane since it does grow like a weed).
Not only does purslane have five times the amount of Omega-3 fatty acid that spinach has, but it also has stems high in vitamin C. Omega-3 fatty acids are instrumental in regulating our metabolism.
No, purslane is not yet another of those leafy "rabbit-foods" that only an Ewell Gibbons could love. Purslane is more than merely edible: It is a culinary delight. In fact, it is a succulent herb.
Referring to purslane as a "succulent" herb not only helps give you a sense for it as a food but also provides a hint to the weed's identification.
Purslane's stem is round and smooth, and this creeper trails along the ground like a small vine. The plant bears insignificant yellow flowers.
Young plants have a green stem, but, with maturity, the stems of this annual take on reddish tints. The plant has small, oblong, green leaves, which form clusters and measure about 1 inch long. The leaves resemble small wedges and, like the stem, are juicy, which is a trait purslane shares with other succulents.
This is a mat-forming plant with a taproot. It stays short (usually less than 6 inches tall). If left alone, it can, under ideal conditions (sunny, with moist, fertile earth that drains sharply), approach a spread of 2 feet.
Picking and Using Purslane
To preserve purslane's juiciness for eating, harvest it in the morning or evening when you will not have to compete with intense sunlight. The following are examples of culinary uses for the plant:
- Use it raw in salads, mixed with other ingredients.
- Eat it raw, on its own, as a snack.
- Saute it as a side dish.
In addition to the crispy texture you would expect from a succulent, purslane also has an interesting peppery flavor.
Purslane cooking recipes abound, including one that uses it in a cucumber-yogurt salad. Although you will not find it at the salad bar of your local fast-food stop any time soon, purslane has made it onto the menu of a number of upscale restaurants.
Getting Rid of Purslane, If You Must
If you are not convinced of the virtues of purslane and feel that you must get rid of it, you can, of course, hand-pull it, which is an organic method. Hand-pulling is easiest when the soil is wet. You can also use the pre-emergent herbicide, Dimension, if you are not committed to staying organic. Purslane germinates when soil temperatures reach about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so you will have to apply the pre-emergent herbicide by at least mid-spring (check with your local county extension).